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As Kiev Cites Progress, Opposing Convoys Head To Ukraine's East


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel. There's been more heavy fighting in eastern Ukraine. This is happening as Ukrainian and Russian aid convoys are heading towards the area, although still isn't clear how the Russian trucks plan to cross the border. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is outside Luhansk in eastern Ukraine, and Soraya, where exactly are you?

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: I'm in a town called Polavintino (ph) which is north of Luhansk, the regional capital which is being held by the rebels. And it's amazing what the difference it makes when the Ukrainians are holding some place. This place of course has checkpoints and everything, but it's Ukrainian forces that are holding it and life is relatively normal here. You may hear in fact, in the background some people partying and having a good time which is certainly not what's happening a 45 minute drive south of here.

SIEGEL: Let's turn now to the story of the Russian convoy. What's happening with that truck convey?

NELSON: Well, at the moment it's parked on the Russian side of the border - not to cross it as it is planned to into rebel-held territory or at least that was the plan or had seemed to be the plan initially. The Ukrainian forces say that they have taken control of the key town that's south of Luhansk, and that basically cuts off the road that they would have used it to get that convoy into you Luhansk. And so at the moment, these white-tarped trucks - there is about 200 of them according to the Russians, and they say that they're carrying humanitarian aid - including portable generators, baby food and the like. They're sitting in a field just across basically from the Ukrainian border south of Luhansk.

SIEGEL: Then there's another convoy - a competing convoy coming from the Ukrainian side. What news is there of that?

NELSON: Well, they're actually three it turns out. One was in Kiev this morning. I actually saw it as I was headed to the airport to fly east here. And they're orange-tarped trucks. They had Ukrainian flags flying off them. They are said to be carrying humanitarian aid - 800 tons worth. And they are coming again from three different locations - Kiev, Kharkiv, which is north of here, and from Dnipropetrovsk, which is - southwest of here would be the best way to describe it.

SIEGEL: Apart from whatever political significance these convoys have, they're intended to help people who are trapped by the fighting in eastern Ukraine, and what's actually been happening in the fighting?

NELSON: Well, it's been very, very bad today according to many accounts. There was heavy shelling in Donetsk, which is the regional capital south of here. They're reports from - we spoke to rebel spokesman who saw two dead bodies. There're other reports from the rebels of at least five injured. The shelling that was going on was apparently in the center of town, which is been relatively immune for whatever reason. And none of the government forces nor the pro-Russian separatists would claim response ability for that shelling.

SIEGEL: The conditions in Luhansk are said to be terrible - no food, sanitation or water. Are people able to at least get out of the city?

NELSON: Well, there is this thing called a humanitarian corridor that's called the green corridor, which leads out of one part of Luhansk into Ukrainian-held territory. That works most of the time, and this is where people have been leaving. I went to one of the refugee transit centers that is fed by this corridor There were 81 people there today. A lot of them families and neighbors. They were understandably very upset that they had arrived on Saturday - the group that I spoke to you and they said that you know, it's just the conditions are horrible - that there's a lot of shelling and noise constantly, that they have to trek long stretches to get water or supplies to haul back to their homes, and that they just want this to stop. They want their lives to return to normal.

SIEGEL: Now these are people who are getting out to get back into Ukrainian territory. What about the separatists? Do - they're not using the corridor to get to Kiev, are they?

NELSON: Well, it's unclear. Certainly the people I spoke to today didn't want to talk about politics or what their political leanings were, but they were looking to get - according to the of the camp, they do try to get to Kiev and another places where they're offered free transit by the government. And the United Nations is saying that more than 700,000 people have actually crossed into Russia since the beginning of the year - not all of them related to the conflict necessarily, but certainly a sizable portion of them, and they clearly are probably the ones that side with the pro-Russian separatists.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in eastern Ukraine. Soraya, thanks.

NELSON: You're welcome, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.
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