Ukraine resists advancing Russian forces as the West imposes tough new sanctions

Editor’s Note: This segment has been updated to remove sensitive information.

In less than a week since Russia began its attack on Ukraine, more than 500,000 Ukrainians have fled their nation and are now refugees. This comes as fierce fighting continues across the country, the U.S. and Europe imposed harsh new sanctions on the Russian central bank, and President Zelensky asked the European Union to immediately accept Ukraine. Nick Schifrin reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    In less than a week since Russia began its attack on Ukraine, more than half-a-million Ukrainians have fled their nation, and are now refugees.

    This comes as the U.S. and Europe imposed harsh new sanctions on the Russian Central Bank, sending the ruble crashing and interest rates soaring.

    Elsewhere, the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands said it would open an investigation into possible war crimes in Ukraine. And the U.S. says that it will expel 12 Russian diplomats at the United Nations for alleged activities outside their diplomatic roles.

    Back in Ukraine, the fighting and the fleeing continues.

    Nick Schifrin is now on the ground there, reporting tonight from Lviv.

  • And a warning:

    Images in this story may disturb some viewers.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    There is no safe way to flee a war, thousands of Ukrainians pressed into the closest train station to Poland, their journey one-way, their future uncertain; 22-year-old Yulia is a computer programmer from Kyiv.

  • Woman:

    I heard a lot of bangs and the sounds of war.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And how long will you leave for?

  • Woman:

    I don't know. It depends on how long the war will be.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Ukrainian men aren't allowed to escape the war. The border's only open to women and children, children too young to understand, old enough to share their parents' fear. But fathers saying goodbye don't know when their sons will come back. All they can hope is, this is not farewell.

    A few miles away, the road to Poland is a traumatized population's escape corridor; 30,000 people fleeing in cars have created a line 20 miles' long. Many chose to walk, and packed their lives into single suitcases. They don't care that evacuation can take days.

    The only reason families make children flee is because it's too dangerous to stay home.

  • Man (through translator):

    I won't leave them here. Because you know what Russians do when they attack? They bomb everything. They don't care. We can't leave them here.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Ivan Svystun (ph) has been in line for 27 hours, inside his van, his daughter and her kids, his grandchildren.

  • Man (through translator):

    My plan is take them to the border, make sure they cross to Poland. And I will go back and fight. I will defend Ukraine against Putin.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Svetlana and her son fled near the Belarus border 24 hours ago.

  • Woman:

    I think everyone is scared, because we don't know what will be tomorrow, what will be in two hours, and where we will see Russian helicopters.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Margarita and her son's home in Odessa was bombed. She had to pack in one hour.

  • Woman (through translator):

    I'm forced to flee abroad with my kids. It's very painful. I don't have the words.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    It's about 35 degrees, so locals from a nearby town provide provisions. This comfort station is set up by the local church. But, sometimes, the volunteers, are also the displaced.

    Sophia fled her home in Kyiv. She worries as much about her country as her cross-border families and friendships.

  • Woman:

    My heart is breaking, and it's awful that our friends in Russia support the war.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    This is the awful reality of Putin's war, a 6-year-old girl rushed to the hospital after she was hit by Russian shells, the medical staff powerless to save her, one of 16 children killed in five days.

  • Man (through translator):

    Show this to Putin, the eyes of this child and crying doctors.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    A senior U.S. defense official today said Russian troops' advances are not as rapid as expected. But the official feared the Russians would encircle Kyiv in a matter of days. And the assault continues on Kharkiv, Ukraine's second largest city, where, this weekend, Russian convoys rolled into the city center and a Russian bomb hit an apartment complex.

    Officials say dozens of civilians were killed and more than 40 injured. Ukraine said its forces emerged victorious. Russian forces also suffered more losses outside of Kyiv. But new satellite images show a large convoy headed toward the capital.

    Meanwhile for the first time since the invasion, a Ukrainian delegation traveled to meet Russian counterparts. Both sides said the initial talks, remain inconclusive.

    As for the country's leaders, today Russia's President Vladimir Putin met his economic advisers, at a distance, one day after he increased the alert level of Russia's nuclear forces, while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky rallied his nation.

  • Volodymyr Zalensky, Ukrainian President (through translator):

    When I ran for president, I said each of us is the president because we are all responsible for our state. It turns out each of us is a warrior, a warrior in their own way. And I am confident that each of us will win.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Which has led to a national grassroots mobilization. In downtown Lviv, they're making the most basic of weapons. Pour gas and machine oil in a bottle, mixed with styrofoam to make it sticky. Then, stuff a rag inside, which will later be lit.

    Nazar used to be a brewer at this brewery named Truth. He's now mixing Molotov cocktails, named after a Russian foreign minister known for disinformation.

  • Nazar, Pravda Brewery (through translator):

    I highly doubt that something will happen in downtown Lviv. But we should have something to defend ourselves. And this is the only way to defend ourselves, because this is something that every Ukrainian can create.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yuriy Zastavniy is the brewery's owner. He calls himself a veteran of previous Ukrainian revolutions, 1991, when Ukraine became independent, 2014, when they also threw Molotov cocktails and evicted a pro-Russian government. And now they will send their craft weapons to Kyiv.

  • Yuriy Zastavniy, Owner, Pravda Brewery (through translator):

    I think everyone understands this has nothing to do with business. This is something to do with securing your free future. If you don't do this, if we as a country don't do this, there is no future.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Ukraine is being tested, perhaps as never before. But this is a country of faith. And inside this Greek Catholic Church, despite national anxiety, the priest said their faith was their armor.

  • Priest (through translator):

    The enemy is attacking us, but we are with God. And if we are with God, who can be against us?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And when the choir started, it wasn't a solemn song. They sang "A Call to Arms," a battle hymn for Ukraine.

    For Zelensky, the billion battle is both military and political.

    Today, he asked the European Union to immediately admit Ukraine.

    Judy, Zelensky was an entertainer who was a comedian who spoke in Russian. Today, he is inspiring the country against Russia. Two weeks ago, Judy, his approval rating was 25 percent. Today, it is 91.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Wow.

    So, Nick, we saw those interviews just now you did with so many Ukrainians trying to reach the border. What about when they get to the border? How hard is it to cross in both directions?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yes, there are six border crossings across the 1,600-mile Ukraine-Poland border. And for 30 years of independence, those crossings were quiet and peaceful until today.

    What we saw were thousands of Ukrainians trying to get out. And they were — essentially looked like they were in cages because they were behind high fences. They were setting fires to try and stay warm, because they had to sleep there overnight. There were dozens and dozens of children and no bathrooms.

    For the few going in the other direction, from Poland into Ukraine, well, there's no easy way to get into a country at war. There are no flights into Ukraine today. And because of that long line of cars coming out, there are no buses, vans or taxis or any vehicles that can actually reach the border to take people into Ukraine.

    And that meant that those of us trying to get in had to walk or even hitchhike. And, Judy, that means that the difficulties we face make it incredibly difficult to get humanitarian assistance into Ukraine.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It certainly sounds that way.

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