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Russia has control of a key eastern Ukrainian city

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Fighting and shelling of civilian areas are intensifying in eastern Ukraine. Russia has been trying to take more Ukrainian territory. And on Sunday, it announced that it had gained control of a key eastern Ukrainian city. NPR's Emily Feng is on the line now from Kryvyi Rih in southern Ukraine. Hi, Emily.

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: OK, so tell us a little more about the city in eastern Ukraine, which Russia now controls.

FENG: It's called Lysychansk. It's sitting on a quarter of land in Ukraine's east that was blocking Russian advances to more Ukrainian eastern cities in this region called the Donbas in Ukraine. And Russia wants control over all of the Donbas. This week, they made a significant gain by taking over Lysychansk. These gains were not all one way, though. Ukraine did win a handful of villages in the southeast. They won control over an island in the Black Sea. But in general, it's Russia that's made more significant gains in the last few days.

There's also been an uptick in Russian shelling in Ukraine, and that's led to these horrible civilian casualties where 20 people died in a shopping mall attack in central Ukraine. Another big strike that was a few days later in the port city of Odesa killed 21 people.

CHANG: Well, we are now in the fifth month of the war. So can you just put in context what these developments mean at this point?

FENG: The war has gotten more hot in many ways, right? There's more fighting. Artillery is still going back and forth. But the fighting is over these really incremental pieces of territory. It's street by street in cities, or in the countryside - one village here, another village there. And that's left this vast swath of largely rural Ukraine in the east and the south that is living under anarchy and constant bombardment.

I spent the last few days meeting people who are fleeing from these regions in Kherson in Ukraine's south. They're mostly coming from villages on the front lines of this conflict. They describe living the last four months or so with no power, no gas, no food and missiles landing 20 to 30 times a day. By contrast, in cities they've taken over, Russian soldiers are reportedly Russifying the administration by forcing the Russian language on people, using Russian currency instead of the Ukrainian currency.

But in villages, which is where the people I've been talking to are from, where the shelling is often the most intense, there is no Russian attempt to govern or to help the people there, and they're largely left on their own or told, if you want to leave, go to Russia.

CHANG: Well, I understand that Ukraine is preparing a counteroffensive to break past this kind of deadlock. Have you seen any signs of that working?

FENG: I'm just north of Kherson Oblast, which is one of the staging areas where Ukraine says it wants to mount a counteroffensive. It's trying to retake Kherson, which is the only Ukrainian regional capital the Russians have managed to take over so far. But when I spoke to city officials from a key city just south of here called Zelenodolsk this morning, they told me they had no resources, no artillery, no extra manpower to mount any kind of offensive. They were barely defending themselves with rifles, which are useless against shelling. And so we'll have to see whether these counteroffensives are useful.

There's been a lot of shelling. We were just a few kilometers from the front line, and you could hear incoming and outgoing artillery every 15 minutes or so. The mayor there is warning people, do not go to the outskirts of the city. Avoid the shelling. But people ignore him because they're living with this war.

CHANG: Right.

FENG: They're still going on about their daily lives. And it means the war is very much here, and it doesn't look like it's ending soon.

CHANG: Well, please stay safe, Emily. That is NPR's Emily Feng in Kryvyi Rih, Ukraine. Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Emily Feng is NPR's Beijing correspondent.
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