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Power plant attack and civilian casualties: The latest on the fight in Ukraine

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has entered its second week, and we have seen some terrible images of the devastation being inflicted. We've also seen something that may be chilling without precedent - a military battle at the largest nuclear power plant in Europe.

For the latest on this and other developments in Ukraine, we're joined by NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre. Hi, Greg.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hi, Sacha.

PFEIFFER: Greg, many people were glued to their devices and screens last night, looking at these nighttime images of the shooting and the fire at this plant in Ukraine. Could you bring us up to date on where that situation stands?

MYRE: Sure. The Russian military attacked and seized the Zaporizhzhia region nuclear power plant in a fierce battle with the Ukrainians. Now, this ignited a fire in an administrative building. That fire was put out, and there's no sign that radiation leaked from the plant, which is in the southeastern part of the country.

And it's the largest such nuclear facility in Europe. It has six nuclear reactors. Now, the Russian military is in full control while the Ukrainian staff is still there, and so they're effectively working at gunpoint.

PFEIFFER: What is the U.S. saying?

MYRE: Yeah. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby addressed the issue at a briefing today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN KIRBY: We continue to call on Russia to stop the invasion period and certainly with respect to humanitarian concerns about perpetrating violence anywhere near a nuclear power plant, which are not designed to withstand combat. That's not their function - peaceful nuclear power.

MYRE: And just a reminder, Sacha - Russia has now seized two nuclear power plants. A week ago in one of the first days of the war, they took over Chernobyl in northern Ukraine. And, of course, that's the site of the world's worst nuclear disaster way back in 1986.

PFEIFFER: Right. I understand that the U.S. has established a new hotline with Russia to avoid any misunderstandings over the war in Ukraine. What can you tell us about that, Greg?

MYRE: Right. So this is called a deconfliction line. And it was established this week between the U.S. military's European headquarters, which are in Stuttgart, Germany, and Russia's Defense Ministry. The idea is to prevent any miscalculations. So it's basically just a phone line. It's been set up and tested, but there's no indication, no word that it's been used.

Now, the Russian military planes are bombing throughout Ukraine to devastating effect, as we've seen. U.S. military planes are not going into Ukraine or into their airspace, but they are operating close to Ukraine's borders in neighboring countries, Poland in particular. So the goal here is to have a way that the U.S. and Russia can be in real-time contact and avoid any sort of accidental confrontation.

PFEIFFER: Before this war, the U.S. was providing military assistance to Ukraine. Is that assistance continuing to flow?

MYRE: Yes, it absolutely is. Now, President Biden authorized $350 million just last Saturday, and already 240 million - more than two-thirds of the total - has already gone out the door. Now, a U.S. defense official today ascribed - described the weapons as only anti-armor, didn't provide any additional details. However, the U.S. has been giving Ukraine these javelin missiles for the past several years. Now, these are shoulder-fired. They're not that hard to use, and they seem to be highly effective in taking out Russian tanks.

Now, providing these kinds of weapons to Ukraine used to take weeks or even months, this defense official said. Now it's just taking days or hours. And 14 countries have provided military aid to Ukraine since the war started, and many weren't doing so previously. Russia objected to this, but it hasn't been able to stop the flow.

PFEIFFER: Greg, civilians seem to be more and more effected. We see these pictures of people hiding in subways, subway stations. And the number of civilian casualties seem to be rising. Why are we seeing this escalation?

MYRE: Well, Sacha, the short answer is the fighting has moved mostly to the cities. We're seeing this footage of these terrible attacks that have gutted apartment buildings, causing many civilian casualties. And the Russians are claiming, against this very strong visual evidence, that it's not happening.

The Russians are now in control of one southern city and on the outskirts of several other cities. And this urban fighting almost always leads to more civilian casualties and the fear this will keep getting worse as the cities become the main battlegrounds.

PFEIFFER: NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre. Thanks, Greg.

MYRE: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.