Winter looms in Ukraine as Russian invasion enters 10th month

As the war in Ukraine enters its 10th month and snow falls in the country's capital, Russia continues to target civilian infrastructure and the electrical grid. Reporting from Kyiv, NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre joins Geoff Bennett for more on what the coming winter will look like.

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  • Geoff Bennett:

    We shift our focus now to the ongoing war in Ukraine, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. This past week said he had no doubt that his country was not to blame for a missile strike on Tuesday, that hit a Polish village killing two people. That's despite NATO's initial assessment that the blast took place as Ukraine was trying to defend itself against Russia. All parties are urging restraint for now. But for a moment, the incident highlighted just how little it would take to widen the scope of the war.

    Meantime, the first snow fell in Kyiv, while Russia continues to target civilian infrastructure and the electrical grid. For more on what the winter will look like, we're joined by NPR's Greg Myre from Kyiv. It's great to have you with us.

  • Greg Myre, National Security Correspondent, NPR:

    Good to be here, Geoff.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    And Greg, what's the latest on the investigation of that initial strike that hit that Polish village just four miles from the Ukrainian border?

  • Greg Myre:

    Right, so Poland is invited the United States and now Ukraine to figure out what happened. And it shouldn't be a huge mystery. The missile left a big crater that were fragments there providing what seems to be enough information to identify whose missile it was. And there seems to be a general consensus among Poland, the U.S. and NATO that this was a Ukrainian Air Defense Missile.

    Russia was firing 100 missiles into Ukraine on Tuesday. Ukraine actually shot a lot of them down. It says it shot about 75 of them down with air defense missiles. It seems that this one in question missed its target. These missiles are supposed to then self-destruct, apparently this one did not, and landed in Poland.

    The interesting thing here, Geoff, is that President Zelenskyy is kind of still saying or is still not acknowledged that it might be a Ukrainian missile. Nobody's blaming him. Poland, U.S., NATO, all say we understand why this happened. And it seems like, you know, the thing to do here is just say, OK, it was an accident. Let's move on. But Ukraine and President Zelenskyy still haven't acknowledged it was their missile.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    What does his reluctance to acknowledge, as you put it, that it was their missile? And what does the international response suggest to you about the geopolitical landscape right now, at month 10 of this of this war?

  • Greg Myre:

    Right. I mean, what's notable about this is Ukraine and its Western backers have pretty much been on the same page throughout the war. They've had a few little quibbles here and there. It's kind of unusual for them not to be in agreement here. So that's what's significant, although quite frankly, I think among the Western countries, there's a real sense of relief that it is a Ukrainian missile rather than a Russian missile. If it were a Russian missile, then you'd have all sorts of issues there, would be a strike in a NATO country. Was it intentional? Was it accidental? How do you respond? So, I think in terms of the geopolitics, it's much easier to say, this is an understandable accident that took place. Ukraine didn't mean to do this. Let's move on. Let's not get involved in some big confrontation, additional confrontation with Russia in addition to all the issues that are in front of us right now.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Yeah. Russia is targeting civilian infrastructure from bridges and roads to the electrical grid. That strikes me as a concerted effort, an unlawful effort by the losing Russian forces to erode the Ukrainian will to fight. How do you see it?

  • Greg Myre:

    That's a pretty good summary, Geoff. I mean, the Russian ground forces have really not been able to advance for the last four months or so. And in fact, they've been pushed back in a number of instances. The Russian Navy is sort of sitting out there in the Black Sea, not firing some missiles, but not really doing much beyond that. The Russian Air Force is not sending many if any man planes into Ukrainian airspace because they're getting shot down so frequently.

    So, Russia's military efforts have really come to a standstill or even been in reverse in recent months. The one vulnerable spot, the Russians have picked out and determined is to fire barrages of missiles, at Ukrainian civilians, and in particular, the energy grid. And as you noted, it's getting cold very fast here, temperatures have are dipping below, below freezing here in Kyiv, or getting snow. And they the efforts to repair the energy system, Ukrainians have shown a real ability to do that. But it's going to be a struggle to do this for the next three or four months. They repair it, the Russians hit it. Every time we go through this cycle, the Ukrainians lose a little bit of capacity in their energy system. So, it's going to be a real battle this winter to see who can stay ahead of the other side.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    And what you describe as a real dire situation. In the 30 seconds we have left, I mean, what are you hearing from people there in Kyiv as you do your reporting?

  • Greg Myre:

    Well, the Ukrainians are not lessening their resolve. And I think if you remember back at the beginning of the war, you did see millions of people leave Ukraine and go to Poland and other countries. They're not doing that now they're staying here. They know it's going to be a hard winter. They're already experiencing power cuts. So, they know it's going to be tough, but you see them staying. They said we're going to fight it out. We're — our intention is to stay here and not to leave.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    NPR's Greg Myre, joining us tonight from Kyiv. Thanks so much, Greg.

  • Greg Myre:

    My pleasure, Geoff.

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