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Ukraine latest: Concerns that Russia plans to split apart the country

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, HOST:

We begin the program in Ukraine, where officials say their military and citizens are pushing Russians back in northern parts of the country. In other areas, shelling and bombing continue. And there are concerns, Ukrainian intelligence officials say, that Russia may be aiming to break their country in two. NPR's Nathan Rott is in western Ukraine, in Lviv, and joins us now. And a warning - some of the sound we're going to hear includes gunshots and an explosion. Nate, welcome.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Thank you.

KURTZLEBEN: So as we mentioned, Ukraine's intelligence services are saying that Russia could be trying to split the country. What do they mean by that?

ROTT: Well, so we heard from Russia's defense ministry this weekend, and they claim that their aim right now was - and it is and always was - to seize eastern Ukraine, the Donbas region, not Kyiv the capital, not the entire country, even though they've sent troops to the north and the south and blasted just about every region of the country with missiles over the last month. Russian-backed rebels have held parts of eastern Ukraine since 2014. And Ukraine's head of military intelligence said in a statement today that Russia may be trying to create a North and South Korea situation, where the east is controlled by Moscow.

KURTZLEBEN: But there's been so much violence over the last month, much of it in the east. Would that even be achievable?

ROTT: Well, obviously, there's a lot of unknowns, right? You know, this war has not gone the way that even American intelligence officials thought it might. Ukraine's intelligence director said they'd soon expand guerilla warfare in Russian-occupied territory. And we've already seen protests in towns where Russian troops have big presence. The sound I'm going to share with you in just a second is from a civilian protest in Kherson earlier today. You're going to hear Russians fire into the air, trying to intimidate the crowd, and also a smoke bomb.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

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

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSION)

ROTT: So that's from a social media video that was posted that we were able to verify, and it's notable because Kherson is the only major city Russia has seized so far in this war. That's the kind of pushback they're getting. And their offensive has stalled in other areas.

KURTZLEBEN: Now, President Biden just left Eastern Europe, and he's pledged support to Ukraine. What are you hearing from people about whether that support is enough?

ROTT: So ask anyone here what they want to see from the U.S., from Biden, from NATO, and you're going to get the same answer, which is to close the skies. They want the international community to take steps to make it harder for Russia to bomb and missile the country like we've been seeing. I mean, there were even multiple strikes here in western Ukraine yesterday. There's been air raid alarms today. The U.S. and NATO have said repeatedly they're not going to do that but have pledged to continue giving weapons and training, which, you know, have been effective, right? You know, Kyiv is still in Ukrainian hands.

But the country's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, appealed to Western leaders for more support in his daily address today, asking specifically for fighter jets and tanks, heavier weapons. He accused NATO and Western countries of playing pingpong with deciding how and who should supply those types of weapons. But we've seen a lot of hesitancy to commit those types of resources because it could be seen as an escalation by Vladimir Putin. And with Russia being a nuclear power, that's not an escalation that anybody really seems keen to trigger.

KURTZLEBEN: Meanwhile, so many people have been displaced, Nate. What's the latest you can tell us about the humanitarian crisis?

ROTT: Yeah. So two more humanitarian corridors were opened today, including one from Mariupol, the city on the southern coast that's just been bombed to rubble over the last few weeks. The United Nations says 10 million people have been displaced by this war. Many of those are here in western Ukraine, where we are. Many are abroad. And obviously, a lot of those people are wondering when and if they're ever going to be able to go home.

KURTZLEBEN: That's NPR's Nathan Rott in Lviv, Ukraine. Thank you, Nate.

ROTT: Hey, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.