‘This is as bad as it gets’: Russia escalates attacks in Ukraine amid humanitarian crisis

Russian forces appear close to seizing the port city of Mariupol, where weeks of bombardment have left residents without food and other basic needs. This comes as atrocities committed by Russian troops continue to be unearthed across the region surrounding Kyiv. David Beasley, executive director of the United Nations World Food Program, joins Amna Nawaz to discuss

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    A Ukrainian defense official said today that the situation in Mariupol is difficult and hard.

    In fact, the port city on the Sea of Azov is surrounded and under constant bombardment by Russian forces. There is little food or water left for those who remain and little ammunition for the Ukrainian forces.

    Meantime, atrocities committed by Russian troops continue to be unearthed across the region surrounding Kyiv.

    Amna Nawaz begins our coverage.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    This morning a familiar routine for residents near Kyiv, assess the damage and clear the debris from overnight blasts, those explosions caught on security camera reportedly some of the most powerful since Russian troops diverted forces from the Ukrainian capital earlier this month.

    The latest attack came shortly after Russia announced that the Moskva, its flagship in the Black Sea Fleet, sank while being towed for damages. A ceremony was held today to remember the historic cruiser.

  • Sergei Gorbachev, Russian Navy Reserve Captain (through translator):

    Even for those who have not been there, Moskva was a symbol for everyone, symbol of our power, our hope, the revival of the fleet in the '90s. It is a symbol of our engineering and scientific achievements, force of our arms.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Ukrainian leaders took credit for its destruction, and U.S. officials today confirmed to "PBS NewsHour" two Ukrainian missiles led to the sinking.

    The Russian Defense Ministry rejected that narrative, but still promised a response to Ukrainian attacks, including another strike they said they carried out last night.

    Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, Russian Ministry of Defense (through translator): The number and scale of missile strikes against targets in Kyiv will increase in response to any terrorist attacks or sabotage committed by the Kyiv nationalist regime on the Russian territory.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Meanwhile, some 120,000 residents still remain in and an almost unrecognizable matter.

    Mikhail now lives in a garage with his wife and is trying to get out of the city.

  • Mikhail, Mariupol Resident (through translator):

    We came to see our daughter in the bombing started. We got in a basement, but my wife can barely walk.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    With the war entering its 51st day, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the country and the world last night, commending his people for withstanding weeks of brutality and pushing for tougher sanctions against Moscow.

  • Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Ukrainian President (through translator):

    These 50 days showed me world leaders in a different way. The countries are different. I have seen great generosity of those who are not rich themselves. I have seen extraordinary determination by those who world leaders usually didn't take seriously.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    For an on-the-ground view from Ukraine and more on the increasingly dire humanitarian crisis, I'm joined by David Beasley. He's the executive director of the World Food Program. He joins us now from Lviv.

    David Beasley, welcome back to the "NewsHour." Thank you for making the time.

    I want to begin with Mariupol, where we just heard in the report the situation grows worse by the day. You have been trying to get food aid into the city. Have you had any luck getting access to Mariupol?

  • David Beasley, Executive Director, World Food Program:

    We do not have the access we need.

    There's no way people are not starving to death. We're trying every way we can to sneak it in whatever it takes, but access is denied. And we're asking, give us the access, allow us to do what we do as impartial and neutral to reach the innocent victims of this war.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Just to clarify, when you say you don't have access, are your trucks, your folks on the ground, are they being actively blocked by Russian troops from going in?

  • David Beasley:

    We are not allowed to go in. That's the bottom line. We have got the trucks, we have got the vehicles, we have the food. We just need the access. It isn't any more complicated than that.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So tell me what it would take to get that access. And what other cities do you need to get to that you haven't been able to get to yet?

  • David Beasley:

    Well, particularly in the east — eastern side of Ukraine, where several cities are blocked, or — if we can get the access we need, we can move the food supplies in.

    I mean, it's a war zone. We understand it is complex. We — but, Amna, we work — 80 percent of our operations are in war zones, areas of conflict. We have experience in how to do this. We know how to do it in such a way that we reach innocent people.

    So we're just asking, please give us the access we need.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So who needs to grant that access? Who are you making that request to?

  • David Beasley:

    I have already written and spoken to Russian leadership about this. And we're saying, please, we need it now. People are starving.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And have you gotten any response or any indication from them that that access will be granted any time soon?

  • David Beasley:

    No.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    If you don't get in with that food and water aid, tell me about the circumstances on the ground. What are people facing?

  • David Beasley:

    People don't get food and water, they die? And so the question is whether the Russian forces are providing food.

    But I don't know, because we don't have the access. And this is what we do.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    David, I have to ask you. We have spoken on so many occasions when you're in many different nations trying to get aid to people who need it.

    You sound incredibly frustrated right now. Is this like any other situation you have been in, trying to get that food and water aid to people?

  • David Beasley:

    Yes, we have run into this situation in times before, whether it's in Syria or Ethiopia or Afghanistan. But we keep pounding the pavement, we keep pounding the doors.

    And, usually, we will find a breakthrough. It's now day 51, and we don't have a breakthrough. And so we're going to continue to do everything we can. We're not going to give up on these people. We're not going to do that. We are going to keep jump up and — jumping up and down and hammering the message home as hard as we can, until we get the access that we need.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You were able to make your way to Bucha, where we have — had seen reports previously. Of course, investigators are now looking into possible war crimes on the ground there. Tell us about what you saw.

  • David Beasley:

    Amna, I was just in Kyiv and Bucha. And I have talked to many people on the streets of Bucha.

    And you have seen the pictures where the tanks were all over the city. But what you may not have seen, the devastation of war, I mean, just residential neighborhoods just wiped out, decimated. In fact, I stood at an orphanage, a home for 40 children. That home was just blown to pieces. Why?

    I heard from families, victims of this war, mothers that were shot, grandmothers that were shot, children that were shot. You just can't believe it. And I have seen a lot of bad stuff around the world, whether it's in Afghanistan, or in Ethiopia, or Yemen, or Syria. This is as bad as it gets.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    We have talked a lot about the millions of people who've already fled Ukraine, who've been able to get out.

    Are you able to reach any of them, provide support in a neighboring nation?

  • David Beasley:

    The 4.5 or more million people that have left Ukraine are — and you could say really the lucky ones, because they're being met by the loving arms of strangers that are bringing them in, giving them shelter, giving them food.

    And it's remarkable to see that take place. And we're helping as much as we need to help in that particular refugee crisis. But, inside, you have got seven million people that are internally displaced. And we're working with the partners, the governments, to reach those people.

    Then you have got people that are stuck, for example, on the eastern side of Ukraine, in the midst of the battle of war. And we're trying to reach the most vulnerable, because that's what we can do. And that's what we do best. But it is very complex, putting the food supplies, getting the trucks, getting the truck drivers, as you can imagine, because most of the truck drivers right now on the battlefronts.

    And so we're working through all of these. But then you run into blockades. And then you think it's bad enough what's taking place inside Ukraine. But you — as you realize, Ukraine grows enough food to feed 400 million people around the world.

    So we're not talking about just Ukraine. We're talking about the entire world is going to pay a mighty big price because of this war.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And we have already seen, of course, the war has exacerbated shortages, food shortages. We know about an incredible amount of grain that comes from Ukraine and Russia both.

    Is that having an impact even on your ability to get those kinds of supplies that you need to deliver aid?

  • David Beasley:

    Yes, Amna, we feed at the World Food Program about 125 million people during the year. We buy 50 percent of our grain from Ukraine.

    We are already seeing an increase in fuel costs, food costs, shipping costs, to the extent of an additional operational cost per month for the World Food Program $71 million, so an $850 million impact on our operational expense. That means four or five million people less will get food. That's just our operations.

    That doesn't even impact what we're talking about increase of food prices for everyone else around the world, and the possibility of the unavailability of food for people around the world, because, when you take the breadbasket of the world, where now people are in bread lands, and they feed 400 million people, where's that food going to come from over the next six to nine months?

    Because the farmers are on the front lines. They need to be in the fields right now. They need to be planting. They need to be putting out fertilizers. They need to be ready to harvest. And then we need for the ports to be open, because the ports are shut down. It is through those ports that 400 million people are fed.

    And so it's going to have a global impact on everyone around the world, but especially the poorest of the poor. And so here's what's going to happen. I mean, if we don't reach the poorest of the poor in the countries that we're mostly concerned about, you're going to have famine, you're going to have destabilization of some nations, and you are going to have mass migration.

    And I can tell you, Amna, that will cost 1,000 times more than if we can get in, in advance and do it right.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That is David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Program, joining us from Lviv.

    Thank you so much.

  • David Beasley:

    Thank you. It's good to be with you.

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