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As Russian invasion unfolds, a Ukrainian student is in survival mode

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

I spent much of today on the phone trying to talk to Ukrainians, calling people that my NPR colleagues and I met over these last several weeks reporting.

(SOUNDBITE OF DIAL TONE)

VITALY SHUTOV: Hello.

KELLY: One of the people we reached, 22-year-old Vitaly Shutov. He is a college student in a city called Kherson. That's in the south, near Crimea. He told us it's been hard to know what to believe with so much fake news making the rounds, but he is worried because he recently saw that Russia had taken several towns in his area.

SHUTOV: The Russian flags are hanging there. And I feel like in about three or two hours, my city is going to be conquered as well. I'm very - I'm, like, paralyzed and freaking out right now, really scary situation.

KELLY: Wow. I'm so sorry. First of all, are you safe? I want to make sure you're somewhere safe while I keep asking you questions.

SHUTOV: Yes, I am safe. I'm at my house, my apartment. And, well, I just only heard a couple of explosions, I guess maybe like 20 kilometers. Like, maybe it's like 15 or 20 miles away from my city. And it's really scary because the apartment, the houses are trembling. It's very loud noises, I guess.

KELLY: For the moment, you have power, you have water, you have heat. Everything is working?

SHUTOV: For now, I do. But my grandma that lives, like, I guess, 60 kilometers, about that, she just lost her electricity about, like, three hours ago. So I hope that I won't lose my power here.

KELLY: Will you stay or will you try to leave?

SHUTOV: I'm not sure. I'll stay. I feel like - I don't have anywhere to go.

KELLY: Now, I have to ask, you're 22 years old. You're a young man. Are you worried about being drafted, about having to fight?

SHUTOV: No. If I have to, then I will. Of course, I mean, I never, you know, held in my arms a gun, for example. I don't know how to shoot. I don't know how to use it. But if I'll get drafted, I'll be OK with it, and I'll go fight 'cause - but right now, they just, you know, I'm actually waiting for instructions, I'd say. Right now, I don't know what I'll do. And nobody...

KELLY: Waiting for - I mean, who would the instructions be coming from?

SHUTOV: Our president.

KELLY: Yeah. You know, we knew to call you today because you just did an interview with my colleague, Daniel Estrin, when he was in your city not so long ago. I mean, he was asking you, were you worried about war? Did you think it would really come?

SHUTOV: No, I - honestly. I'm, like, I was like 80% sure that that never happens to us because - and today I woke up in the morning, I heard bombing. And I didn't know what's going on. It's just - it's really terrifying. I guess I believed for the best, I'd say, and never thought that this can happen, but it did.

KELLY: We followed up with Vitaly later today to see how he was doing. He said he was still in Kherson with his mom, that he had heard Russian troops were very close, but he couldn't know for sure if that was true. He texted, quote, "right now, just got to survive the night." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.