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31 years ago Ukraine broke away from the USSR. Now the battle is against Russia


It's been six months since Russia launched its full-scale invasion on Ukraine.


Now it is a war of attrition, with both sides seeing heavy casualties. The war has led to a global food crisis, inflation across the world and devastation in Ukraine.

MARTINEZ: NPR's Elissa Nadworny joins us now from Kyiv. Elissa, I heard it was a restless night for people in Ukraine.

ELISSA NADWORNY, BYLINE: That's right. Yeah. We started our day here in Kyiv with a 6:30 a.m. air raid siren. Actually, most of Ukraine woke up that way. And there's been more here since then. Several cities last night had missile strikes. But in the capital, so far, the streets are mostly quiet. There's a larger military and police presence here. Both Ukrainian officials and U.S. intelligence agencies have said Russia is likely to increase attacks on civilian infrastructure and government buildings in the coming days here. And the U.S. embassy in Kyiv issued a new security alert this week and urged U.S. citizens to leave the country.

MARTINEZ: And all this as Ukraine celebrates its independence from the Soviet Union 31 years ago. What's the mood like there?

NADWORNY: That's right. Yeah. Well, there's a lot of emotion, certainly. I mean, it's not lost on Ukrainians that they are celebrating their independence while actively fighting for independence. I spoke with a husband and wife about this, Igor and Olha Lysenko. Let's listen.

IGOR LYSENKO: I feel more independence in this day than any day in the year before.

OLHA LYSENKO: (Non-English language spoken).

NADWORNY: So Olha is saying, she really didn't pay attention to the holiday before. It was a day to party, go to a concert. But now, the holiday has new meaning. And she said it's really important to her.

MARTINEZ: Elissa, you're in Kyiv. Are there any celebrations there?

NADWORNY: Well, public celebrations are banned here in the capital. There's a curfew. A lot of people we've talked to are laying low, working from home. Or they're getting out of town, heading west. The city did kind of celebrate in a way. They placed these wrecked and burned-out Russian tanks along the city's main boulevard. I was out there last night and it was packed, thousands of people taking a look. And that's where I met Rooslana Harbizouk. She was out with her two kids.

ROOSLANA HARBIZOUK: (Non-English language spoken).

NADWORNY: She told me, this year, she's feeling more sad than celebratory. She's still a bit afraid. She's going to be extra careful today. But, you know, she's saying Ukraine, she believes, is still going to win the war. And like many Ukrainians, she isn't ready to give up territory.

MARTINEZ: You know, back at the beginning of the war, businesses and industries pretty much shut down. They shut down normal operations and were only making weapons or even Molotov cocktails. Is that still happening?

NADWORNY: So we're definitely out of the Molotov cocktail phase. But this country, it feels like there's two Ukrainians. Here in Kyiv, businesses are back. Restaurants are open. In a lot of ways, life is closer to normal. But in places like Kharkiv, Mykolaiv, closer to the front lines or on the border with Russia, it's a totally different story - shelling most nights, many, many businesses still shuttered - really, two different worlds.

MARTINEZ: Yeah. Elissa, let's take a step back for a second. I mean, after six months, what's been the cost for Ukraine?

NADWORNY: So after six months, Russia now occupies about 20% of Ukraine, so we're talking a lot of land. And then, you know, it's also had a really devastating effect on the people here. Infrastructure is damaged in many places. Take schools - you know, the school year is set to get under way here next week. But more than 2,000 schools have been damaged. Almost 300 have been destroyed. According to the U.N., more than 12 million people have been displaced. About half of them have left the country and are spread out across Europe.

MARTINEZ: NPR's Elissa Nadworny in Kyiv, Ukraine. Elissa, thanks a lot.

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

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Elissa Nadworny reports on all things college for NPR, following big stories like unprecedented enrollment declines, college affordability, the student debt crisis and workforce training. During the 2020-2021 academic year, she traveled to dozens of campuses to document what it was like to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic. Her work has won several awards including a 2020 Gracie Award for a story about student parents in college, a 2018 James Beard Award for a story about the Chinese-American population in the Mississippi Delta and a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in innovation.