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Ukraine latest: Another cease-fire attempt fails

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Another effort to allow civilians to flee a besieged city in Ukraine failed today. Ukrainian officials accused Russia of firing on the route despite attempts to set up a temporary cease-fire. It was the second day in a row that a plan to allow civilians to flee the city of Mariupol in southern Ukraine fell apart.

NPR's Ryan Lucas is in Ukraine, and he is with us now to tell us more. Ryan, thank you so much for joining us.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: So first, what can you tell us about the situation in Mariupol right now?

LUCAS: Ukrainian officials say that they had arranged for a cease-fire to take hold today to set up a humanitarian corridor out of Mariupol. It's a port city that has been under intense attack by Russian forces for days now. The residents say the situation there has deteriorated significantly. There's no heat, they say, no water. Food is running low. Yesterday, a temporary cease-fire was supposed to happen to allow residents to evacuate. That broke down almost immediately. Ukrainians said Russians opened fire on evacuation points. Russia denied this. But then this morning there was a ray of hope. Ukrainian officials said they had organized another attempt at a cease-fire, but that too quickly collapsed.

MARTIN: What happened there?

LUCAS: Well, one of Ukraine's deputy prime ministers, Iryna Vereshchuk, said in a video statement that officials had arranged for eight trucks to deliver medicine and food and for 30 buses to drive into Mariupol and pick up women and children and the elderly and to take them out of the city and to safety, away from the fighting. She says they had a route all mapped out and arranged, but then she also said this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

IRYNA VERESHCHUK: (Speaking Ukrainian).

LUCAS: What she's saying here is that none of this ever actually came to pass. She says the Russians opened fire on the evacuation route that was supposed to be the humanitarian corridor, and so people are still stuck in Mariupol.

MARTIN: So the fighting goes on there. Meanwhile, one city the Russians have managed to enter and take control of, as I understand it, is Kherson. What can you tell us about what's going on there?

LUCAS: Well, residents have actually been staging protests against the Russian occupation of Kherson. There was a protest yesterday in the main square. There were videos posted online of a guy jumping up onto a Russian military vehicle and waving a blue and yellow Ukrainian flag. I spoke this evening with another protester there. His name is Konstantin Solodukhin. He's a 26-year-old graphic designer who lives in Kherson.

KONSTANTIN SOLODUKHIN: Nobody, no one in Kherson want to be a part of Russia. So we really have strong motivation to fight for our freedom, to fight for our dignity, to stay Ukrainian.

LUCAS: He says that residents in the city plan on protesting again tomorrow and the day after that and as long as it is possible for them to do so, he says.

MARTIN: So, Ryan, let me just step back just a little bit now. This is the second weekend since Russia launched its full-scale invasion. Can you just give us a sense of where all this stands at this point?

LUCAS: Well, on the battlefront, Russia has made more progress in southeastern Ukraine than in the north around Kyiv, where their offensive remains stalled. But Ukraine cities are - they're being shelled. Civilians are being killed. There were chilling photos today, actually, of a family killed on the side of the road, with their suitcases next to them trying to flee a suburb of the capital. The U.N. says that more than 1.5 million people had fled the country so far, and things are only going to get worse. On the diplomatic front, a third round of talks is planned for tomorrow between the two sides. The first two rounds didn't really lead to anything. This being Sunday, many Ukrainians went to church today. My colleagues and I here went to a couple of churches in Lviv in western Ukraine.

(SOUNDBITE OF WORSHIP)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing in non-English language).

LUCAS: At one church, there were a couple of big poster boards with photos of Ukrainian soldiers killed fighting Russia's invasion of Crimea in Donetsk back in 2014. And that's a reminder of what you hear a lot from Ukrainians here, which is, for them, they have been fighting Russia for eight years. The war now is just on a much, much larger scale.

MARTIN: That was NPR's Ryan Lucas in western Ukraine. Ryan, thanks to you and to your team, and we certainly wish you the best and everyone there.

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