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People Kharkiv suffer daily Russian attacks in a war Biden now calls a genocide

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Almost 50 days after the beginning of Russia's war in Ukraine, the country's second biggest city, Kharkiv, is still under artillery and air attack. Russia appears to be regrouping and concentrating its forces in the east of the country, with a major Russian offensive widely anticipated. And President Biden is accusing Russian President Putin of genocide.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Yes. I called it genocide because it's become clearer and clearer that Putin is just trying to wipe out the idea of even being able to be Ukrainian.

FADEL: That is a term that U.S. officials have avoided using until now. And the president says evidence is mounting. NPR's Eyder Peralta is in Kharkiv. And we talked earlier this morning.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: This is a big city. And before the war, it had a population of 1.4 million. But now it is desolate. At night, the entire city goes dark, and that's when the heaviest fighting happens. We're staying in the center of town at a fairly safe distance from artillery fire. But at night and all night, we can see flashes of the explosions in the distance. Imagine a thunderstorm building on the outskirts of the city, and that's what it's like. We hear the rumble of artillery fire. And every once in a while, when there's a big one, you can feel the shaking under your feet.

Yesterday, we made our way to Saltovka, one of the northern suburbs here. And we saw residential buildings with big holes in them, power lines in the middle of the street, a whole market burned down, homes turned into rubble. It was sheer devastation.

FADEL: And it's not over for these residents. And you've been talking to them. What are they saying?

PERALTA: A lot of them are scared. In this northern suburb, we met Marina Vorontsova. And when we arrived, she quickly pulled us into the lobby of her apartment building, where we could be safe in case of an airstrike. And the night before, the building next door took a direct hit, and Marina looked shellshocked. Let's listen to a bit of our conversation.

MARINA VORONTSOVA: (Through interpreter) It is shaking. It's, like, yesterday it was trembling. Our building was trembling really bad 'cause there is a 16-story building across, and it was direct hit there.

PERALTA: And she says yesterday was terrifying. I asked her if the reason she didn't leave was because of her elderly mother.

VORONTSOVA: (Through interpreter) No, no. I can move her. It's not a problem. And she actually wants to move. But there's other people that we need to stay them for. And also, as I say, it's two dogs we have. So we're staying mostly for them.

PERALTA: So she doesn't want to leave because she wants to keep helping. But this constant shelling is taking a toll. It's scary. At the main train station here, I talked to people who say they have stayed as long as they could. But now it's just gotten too scary, so they're leaving.

FADEL: So let's zoom out a bit. Are people talking about what happens next, where this war goes from here?

PERALTA: Yeah. I don't think anyone has an answer to that. Russian President Vladimir Putin gave a speech yesterday in which he said that Russia would continue fighting this war. And the U.S., the U.K. and Ukraine say that in the near future, Russian troops will begin another offensive in the east. But what happens next is the hardest question for everyone here because that's all they know, that at some point there will be a big new Russian offensive.

FADEL: NPR's Eyder Peralta reporting from Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine - thank you Eyder. And stay safe.

PERALTA: Thank you, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Eyder Peralta
Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.