Russian forces appear to be preparing for another attempt to take kyiv: NPR

NPR’s Leila Fadel chats with Olga Stefanishyna, Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration of Ukraine, about what it’s like in the beleaguered neighborhoods of the capital kyiv.


The Ukrainian capital is still under Ukrainian control, despite more than two weeks of Russian attacks aimed at capturing the seat of power. Now Russian forces seem to be preparing for another attempt to take kyiv. This is where we met Olha Stefanishyna, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister in charge of European and Euro-Atlantic integration. She told our co-host Leila Fadel that the attacks in the West were no surprise.

OLHA STEFANISHYNA: We weren’t prepared for any type of scenario, including assaults on the western part of Ukraine. Basically, this means Putin is again raising the stakes in the negotiations ahead of the next round of bilateral talks. He started issuing ultimatums, which go beyond the Ukrainian border. For example, the ultimatums issued to NATO to stop any form of cooperation with Ukraine, to put different threats on a no-fly zone, on flights and jet planes. This war is not the war in Ukraine. It is war for his influence and for his way of seeing the world. And the recent assault and, fundamentally, attacks on military infrastructure – aerial drones, airports and military bases. This is, let’s say, an attempt to (unintelligible) international legalization, but also an attempt to weaken our army by destroying the military infrastructure – like the most secure part of the territory of Ukraine .


This base – was this a base where foreign Legion fighters trained?

STEFANISHYNA: Yeah. It was the largest training base in Ukraine for many years, but especially since 2014. All international trainers and battalions trained there with the Armed Forces of Ukraine, in terms of capacity building, ensuring the proper capability, etc So it was a targeted attack. More than 30 rockets were targeted at this area. But it shows that there are no safe areas. They have the capacity, but we have the highest level of readiness.

FADEL: NATO, the United States, have clearly indicated that they will not set up a no-fly zone, that this would be considered a direct fight with Russia. And European and American leaders say it risks a wider war. What’s your answer to that?

STEFANISHYNA: Well, I think it’s very important not to think about the consequences of taking it, but rather to think, what would be the consequences of not taking it? It is absolutely clear that their air defense is something that is constantly used by the Russian Federation to attack civilians, to destroy the Ukrainian people. So, of course, NATO’s position was precise and clear. But still, there is also a UN platform that could still make this decision, even having Russia on the Security Council. It is therefore still legally possible to make this decision and also to protect the sky for humanitarian purposes. And in this regard, there should be no difference between Russia and Iran or any other country.

FADEL: But the difference is that Russia has threatened to use nuclear weapons, and they have nuclear energy. And the leaders of Europe, the leaders of America, have said that it might cause a Third World War.

STEFANISHYNA: Yes, you know, but they have already captured two nuclear power plants in Ukraine. And Putin doesn’t have to push the button. He can just put a group of uneducated officers only, like – who pass (unintelligible) throughout the area. Already increased the level of radiation without any action taken. So, just, like, walking through that area is something that increases the risk. So you don’t have to wait for him to press the button. He can do it right away, and he’s already threatening him.

FADEL: Russia now controls one of the Ukrainian power plants. It also controls Chernobyl and Russian forces are approaching another power station. What will happen if Russian forces take control of several of these factories?

STEFANISHYNA: Well, I would start by saying that the first 24 hours of war, when they captured the Chernobyl station, that was the target they were trying to capture. And what we did – we contacted all the international organizations and immediately demanded two things – to ensure the security of the Chernobyl zone, but also to keep Russia from withdrawing its forces and ensuring the security of the station. But so far, not all international organizations have done anything significant in terms of securing these objects, other than planning a few visits and voicing their concerns.

But you really should hear me. The Russian armed forces – they are the armed forces – they are now physically in this part of the zone. No one has access to it. And nobody, except them, makes sure of their operation. And basically anything can happen any day. They just receive the order and they implement it. Everything can happen.

FADEL: I want to ask you about your own security. We have heard of Russian forces taking two mayors hostage since the start of the invasion. What does this mean for other officials like you?

STEFANISHYNA: We don’t really put a boundary between the officials and the Ukrainian citizens who are suffering a lot. There have been assassinations, women raped and men killed. Many, many children were left without their parents and families. A lot of kids died, basically. And we could never understand what was the purpose of bombing maternities or hospitals or schools or kindergartens.

FADEL: You said that women are raped. Where is it happening?

STEFANISHYNA: There are a large number of areas that are taken under the control of the Russian armed forces, such as Hostomel, some towns in southern Ukraine, including around the kyiv region. We have settled all these cases as far as possible, because the Ukrainian armed forces and officials simply do not have access to this area, and we have provided all international organizations that have any mandate in this regard. It is a crime against humanity. It’s not a war. It is a terror.

FADEL: The Russian forces had a hard time taking kyiv. It is considered Vladimir Putin’s prize. But they are getting closer to the city. Is there a scenario in which you would consider leaving Kyiv?

STEFANISHYNA: Well, I’m not a military man. I mean, we’re all now military in government. But I have full confidence that kyiv stands on its–two of its legs, and that kyiv will resist at any cost.

FADEL: Olha Stefanishyna, Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration of Ukraine, speaks to us via Skype. Thank you for taking the time.



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