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Former Ukrainian Minister of Infrastructure describes destruction in Kyiv


The Russian war in Ukraine continues in its fourth week. And yesterday, President Vladimir Putin spoke at a sports stadium in Moscow in front of thousands of flag-waving spectators - one of his few public appearances since the invasion began.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in Russian).

SIMON: Even though Western analysts saw the event as orchestrated and populated by state employees, Putin said, quote, "the country hasn't seen unity like this in a long time," unquote, and vowed that Russia would prevail in what the Kremlin's been calling its special military operation in Ukraine. Ukraine's president, Zelenskyy, responded to the event in an overnight video address.



SIMON: He appealed as much to the Russian audiences as to Western ones and compared the size of the crowd in the Moscow stadium to the number of Russian soldiers in Ukraine. He told viewers to imagine that in the stands there were 14,000 dead bodies and tens of thousands more injured and maimed. Those are the Russian costs throughout the invasion, Zelenskyy said.

The Russian military reported today it had used its latest hypersonic missile for the first time in combat. They said it had destroyed an underground warehouse storing Ukrainian munitions in the western part of the country. In southeastern Ukraine, forces battled over one of the largest steel plants in Europe while outside Kyiv, the regional administration reported northwestern suburbs are under fire.

But the city still stands. Russian troops have not been able to capture Kyiv. We're joined now by Volodymyr Omelyan. He is the former Ukrainian infrastructure minister and is in Kyiv. Thank you for being with us.

VOLODYMYR OMELYAN: Thank you, sir. And it's a great honor for me to speak to you and to our American friends.

SIMON: What's your city like today?

OMELYAN: You know, last three days, it was not so hard - I mean, bombing and missiles attacks. We start to counterattack Russians. We stopped them in 50 kilometers, so it's like - it's 30 miles away from the city. So for them, it's very difficult right now to bomb Kyiv. But it's much more difficult situation in Kharkiv and Mariupol because those cities are destroyed. Russians totaled it, and they are hitting civilians heavily each day and each hour.

SIMON: I have been told you recently joined Ukraine's territorial defense forces.

OMELYAN: Yes, it's true. I joined on the first day of the war when it started on the 21 of February.

SIMON: What are you doing?

OMELYAN: We're patrolling the city. We recruit (ph) people. We are looking for Russian agents and also help our armed forces because territorial defense is considered, like, to be second line of the defense of Ukraine.

SIMON: What's everyday life like there, sir?

OMELYAN: Each day is different. It depends on the situation in Kyiv because if it's too tense, we all are engaged. If not - some of them are in hot spots. Some of them take some rest. But it's like a regular situation in wartime.

SIMON: Well, then help us understand what that's like. How are people living? How are they getting food, water? How are they keeping warm, safe?

OMELYAN: In Kyiv, it looks more or less OK, frankly saying, because Russians tried to do their best during the first week of war to capture Kyiv and not anybody let leave the city. But they failed. And we have kind of green corridors, and capital is fully supplied with everything needed. Plus electricity, sewage, water function normally, and there is no kind of threat from this side.

But just yesterday, they hit, once again, capital, so damages are present. Around 1,000 people from Kyiv are injured or dead. But still, we are fighting. And main Russian purpose to de-motivate people, to make them surrender, starting by death, didn't work out, and we fight till the last soldier, too.

SIMON: Yeah. You have said that Ukraine is only the beginning step for Russia. What do you mean?

OMELYAN: In my opinion, what is happening right now in Ukraine, it's a clash of civilizations. On one side, we have democracy civilization, which is focused to have progress and development of each nation with respect to human rights and to their lives. On the other hand, we have a wild horde coming from Russia with only one goal - to occupy, to destroy and to kill with the aim to take all resources from the country. And in my opinion, Ukrainians fight very brave, and we will definitely win this challenge with due respect of West helping us with ammunition, finance and political support. And definitely, sanctions do work.

SIMON: Do you wish the United States and other nations would do more than sanctions, levy sanctions and supply arms?

OMELYAN: Yes, definitely. It's a big, open question as of today because civilians are dying and suffering badly, and it happens every hour all over Ukraine. And I think it's also for NATO to decide whether they protect only their own territory or they fight for democracy in the world. It's not the question of simple Article 5. It's a question of the values you stand for.

SIMON: Volodymyr Omelyan is Ukraine's former infrastructure minister and now a member of its territorial defense forces. Thank you so much for being with us.

OMELYAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Weekend Edition Saturday
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.