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The Ukraine-Russia conflict appears to be entering a new phase

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

The conflict in Ukraine appears to be entering a new and especially dangerous phase. Russia is expected to launch another offensive into eastern Ukraine in the coming days. Troops for both armies are repositioning. Meanwhile, Ukraine's Western allies have started providing heavier weapons to the besieged country. To talk about this, we're joined by NPR's Nathan Rott, who is in the Ukrainian capital. Hello, Nathan.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Hey, Ayesha.

RASCOE: Let's start with this news about heavier weapons because that's something we hadn't seen until now.

ROTT: Yeah, that's right. So Ukraine has been pleading for this, for bigger offensive and defensive weapons, fighter jets, tanks, for weeks. Despite the fact that they largely held against Russia's first wave of attacks, they are still outgunned in pretty much every way. And it's not like that's going to change. But yesterday, we learned that Slovakia has sent Ukraine a Soviet-era defense unit which can be used to defend against aircraft. The U.S., in turn, is going to provide Slovakia with a Patriot missile defense system. And we also learned that Britain is going to give 120 armored vehicles and new anti-ship missiles to Ukraine. So that type of weaponry being provided definitely ratchets things up.

RASCOE: And I understand there was a surprise visit to Kyiv yesterday that preceded this announcement from the U.K.?

ROTT: Yeah. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson made an unannounced visit here in Kyiv. British officials say it was a show of solidarity with Ukraine. And it's not the first diplomatic visit in recent days from Western leaders. Diplomats from a number of other countries are returning. Ursula von der Leyen, the head of the European Commission, visited a couple of days ago and actually went to Bucha, the suburb of Kyiv that's been in the news so much over the last week. So there are people coming.

RASCOE: You went to Bucha last week. That's where some of the more horrifying stories of Russia's invasion have come from. Are we learning more about what happened there?

ROTT: Yeah, we are. And, you know, we're learning a lot more about what happened in a lot of these cities and suburbs and small towns that were either occupied by Russia, like Bucha, or besieged by it over the last month and a half. Yesterday, we actually went to a city called Chernihiv, which is only about 40 minutes south of the Russian border in northern Ukraine. Local officials there told us that about 15% of the city was damaged or destroyed. And you could see that everywhere. We visited a mangled soccer stadium that was covered in concrete, rebar and rock.

There's a giant crater right in the middle of the field.

We met 74-year-old Oleksandra Frederina outside a nine-story apartment building that had been cleaved open by a bomb, killing at least 48 of her neighbors.

OLEKSANDRA FREDERINA: (Speaking Ukrainian).

ROTT: "We were crying and crying," she says. "But now we stopped because we don't see any sense in crying anymore." At a cathedral built in 1715 that was hit by a stray Russian rocket, the church's leader, Father Mikolai, showed a shrapnel he picked up from the church's front door.

MIKOLAI: (Speaking Ukrainian).

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER #1: It's to hurt civilians.

ROTT: The worst of the damage, though, was at a small village just east of Chernihiv. The village, which was occupied by Russians until about a week ago, was totally flattened. A crowd of residents had gathered in the rain and wreckage, waiting for a delivery of humanitarian aid. Tanya Rapinatska was standing to the side next to a pile of rubble that used to be her home.

Did anything survive in your house? Did you find anything?

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER #2: (Speaking Ukrainian.)

TANYA RAPINATSKA: (Speaking Ukrainian).

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER #2: Nothing. At all. Zero, nothing.

ROTT: She gestures downwards.

RAPINATSKA: (Speaking Ukrainian).

ROTT: The shoes on your feet?

ROTT: Rapinatska says she's not sure if she'll rebuild. She's worried the Russians will come back. More concerning, she says, is her kids. They're 11 and 1. And she says she's worried that they'll never be able to forget the horror of what happened.

RASCOE: That was NPR's Nathan Rott in Kyiv. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nathan Rott is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where he focuses on environment issues and the American West.