Ukrainians celebrate national unity and prepare for war as Russian threat lingers

The U.S. says Russia's claims that it is de-escalating tensions on the Ukraine border are"false." A senior administration official said Wednesday night that Russia has added 7,000 troops to the nearly 150,000 troops already near the border. The news comes as defiant Ukrainians staged a show of national unity. Nick Schifrin report.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The U.S. says Russia's claims that it is de-escalating tensions on the Ukraine border are quote "false." A senior administration official says tonight that Russia has added 7,000 troops to the nearly 150,000 troops already near the border. The news comes as defiant Ukrainians staged a show of national unity today.

    Nick Schifrin begins our coverage.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    On a day the U.S. government feared would bring a new war, Ukraine celebrated a new holiday. On Unity Day, Ukrainians held a 600-foot-long flag and rallied around the national anthem, titled "Ukraine Has Not Yet Perished."

    Bohdan Chornomaz, Resident of Kyiv (through translator): It signifies the unity of the whole country under our flag, under our anthem. It is no to war, yes to peace.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But Ukraine is also readying for war. Its air force released video today of Russian-made jets training near the northern border with Belarus to practice targeting columns of tanks.

    And Ukrainian tanks trained nearby. President Volodymyr Zelensky watched with his commanders, before inspecting American anti-tank weapons and addressing his troops.

  • Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukrainian President (through translator):

    Thank you for your skills for protecting our country. When I look at you, I'm confident in both today and tomorrow.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But U.S. officials remain worried that, tomorrow or any day could bring Russian invasion. Just across the Belarus border, Russia continued its own exercises. U.S. officials worry these troops could be used to invade Western Ukraine.

    But Russia says it has no intention to invade and released video overnight of tanks and trucks today it said pulled back from forward positions in Crimea and returned to garrison.

    Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the West fabricated a Russian threat to punish Moscow.

  • Maria Zakharova, Spokeswoman, Russian Foreign Ministry (through translator):

    They are trying to bring all weight to bear on us, having invented a Russian threat and using this pretense to impose more sanctions.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But U.S. officials accuse Russia of inventing a withdrawal that is not actually happening.

    The Ministry of Defense said yesterday these troops were returning to their bases, but independent researchers say their bases are actually right on the Ukraine border. A U.S. official called the videos staged for deception.

    Secretary of State Antony Blinken:

    Antony Blinken, U.S. Secretary of State: Unfortunately, there's a difference between what Russia says and what it does. And what we're seeing is no meaningful pullback.

    On the contrary, we continue to see forces, especially forces that would be in the vanguard of any renewed aggression against Ukraine, continuing to be at the border, to mass at the border.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And that was echoed at a NATO defense ministers meeting in Brussels by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

  • Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary-General:

    What we see on the ground is no withdrawal of troops and forces, equipment. But, actually, what we see is that Russian troops are moving into position, and we saw the cyberattack.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    That cyberattack yesterday took down the Web sites of Ukraine's two largest banks and the foreign and defense ministries.

    Today, Ukrainian officials told reporters the source was unclear, but likely a — quote — "foreign intelligence service."

    And with no evidence of de-escalation, the Russian-created threat on Ukraine's border remains a crisis.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Nick Schifrin.

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