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Ukraine's troops are slowly pushing Russian forces out of occupied Ukrainian land

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Ukraine's troops are inching forward on the battlefield, slowly pushing Russian forces out of occupied Ukrainian land.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Yeah, they recently liberated a village in the southeast that's key to Ukraine's success on the southern front, but there's still a long way to go. Meanwhile, Russia is blaming Ukraine for a series of drone attacks in Moscow. Ukrainian leaders say Russians should know what it feels like to be under attack.

FADEL: Joining us now from Kyiv is NPR's Joanna Kakissis. Hi, Joanna.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Hi, Leila.

FADEL: So Ukraine is touting the liberation of this small town in the southeast. Why are Ukrainians calling it a strategic victory?

KAKISSIS: So yeah, this village is called Staromaiorske. And President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced its liberation himself on his social media accounts. He posted a video of soldiers in the village holding a Ukrainian flag and shouting glory to Ukraine. We spoke to one of the soldiers who was there. He goes by the call sign Kherson, which is another liberated city in southern Ukraine.

FADEL: Right.

KAKISSIS: And he told us that they captured Russian soldiers, but it was a very, very tough win. Russians were attacking from all sides. And, he says, they were using cluster bombs. The Ukrainians lost soldiers. And when his unit entered the village, he says what he saw broke his heart.

KHERSON: (Through interpreter) The destruction there is catastrophic. There is not a single surviving house. There is not even an entire surviving tree. There is only scorched earth.

KAKISSIS: No people, he said. There were only some abandoned animals.

FADEL: Wow.

KAKISSIS: But from a military standpoint, he and his commanders call this a strategic win in a counteroffensive where progress has been very slow and very hard-fought. They say that reclaiming Staromaiorske is just one line of attack in the south that aims to cut off resupply routes for Russia's troops. This line of attack goes through Staromaiorske to the occupied port city of Berdiansk on the Sea of Azov. And another line to the west goes through the occupied city of Melitopol. Ukrainian forces have been hitting Russian barracks and stockpiles in these areas with artillery and long-range missiles provided by the West.

FADEL: So very strategic, but also, what you're describing, quite tragic as they go into the city. Now, this area isn't the only major front in the counteroffensive.

KAKISSIS: Yeah.

FADEL: What's going on elsewhere?

KAKISSIS: So Ukraine is fighting on at least three major fronts. The one we just talked about is in the south. There's another one in the east around another absolutely destroyed city, Bakhmut. The soldiers we spoke to there say there is steady but very slow progress in recapturing that city and surrounding villages. And there's another front in the northeast where the Russians are attacking. The spokesman for the eastern military command told us that the Russians have thrown a large number of troops and weapons there. And Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar told us that especially in the south, the battles are intense and grinding.

HANNA MALIAR: (Through interpreter) It's really a story of exhaustion. Our armed forces are trying to wear down our enemy's defenses, and our enemy is fighting back hard. At the same time, we're eager to move forward to continue our offensive.

FADEL: In the few seconds we have left, what about the spate of drone attacks on Moscow?

KAKISSIS: So Ukraine is not officially claiming those drone attacks. But after one hit a high-rise in Moscow, President Zelenskyy said, quote, "war is returning to Russia. And such attacks on Russia's symbolic centers are fair, considering that Russia has been attacking Ukraine's cities nearly every day for the last 18 months."

FADEL: NPR's Joanna Kakissis in Kyiv. Thanks, Joanna.

KAKISSIS: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF BODI LUKASZ'S "TRISTESSE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Joanna Kakissis is a foreign correspondent based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she reports poignant stories of a conflict that has upended millions of lives, affected global energy and food supplies and pitted NATO against Russia.