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Updates from Vinnitsyia, Ukraine after a deadly rocket attack


When does a war between two countries turn into terrorism?


Ukrainian officials say this has already happened. A cruise missile strike by Russia has killed 23 people in a civilian neighborhood of Vinnytsia, a city in central Ukraine. U.S. officials say Russia is forcibly relocating hundreds of thousands of civilians from captured territory.

INSKEEP: Let's pick up the story with NPR's Brian Mann. He is in Vinnytsia this morning at the site of the rocket attack.

Hey there, Brian.


INSKEEP: What are you seeing?

MANN: Well, it's awful here, Steve. I'm standing in what is one of the central squares of this small city. There's a little park, apartment, buildings and shops. But two of the biggest buildings are now shattered, just gutted by these cruise missiles. There's rubble everywhere. I spoke with Iryna Borodina, who lives in one of the apartments nearby.

IRYNA BORODINA: (Non-English language spoken).

MANN: She told me, Steve, that just a few days ago she was in the medical clinic here that was destroyed by these missiles. She was getting treatment there. And she's worried about the nurses and other people still missing. I can see right now first responders still going in and out. They're searching for dozens of people still unaccounted for.

INSKEEP: Let's talk about the motivation here for striking these civilian targets. Civilians do get caught up in war. It can be what's called collateral damage. But Ukrainian officials seem to think that there is a very long pattern now of civilians being deliberately targeted.

MANN: Yeah, that's right, Steve. That's the official line. And I should say that also the people here in Vinnytsia - they experience this just as humans as terrorism. That's how they describe it to me. One thing you notice about a place like this where I'm standing is the smell. The smell of buildings burned and reduced to ruins is really distinct. I spent a lot of time at ground zero in New York City after 9/11. It's the same smell here. And what Ukrainians say is this keeps happening. Civilian areas keep getting hit by Russia - areas that have no apparent military value - this attack yesterday, particularly deadly - children killed here.

But there was another missile strike just this morning in Mykolaiv in southern Ukraine, where officials say cruise missiles heavily damaged two universities. And what Ukrainians believe is that the goal by Russia is to intimidate their population, to put pressure on the Zelenskyy government to sue for peace.

INSKEEP: Any sign that the Russian tactic would be working?

MANN: As far as I can tell, Russian strikes against civilian areas seem to be having the opposite effect. People are frightened and heartbroken. I'm seeing people bring flowers to this site this morning. But they're also furious, Steve. And they say they want justice. I spoke about this with Oksana Urbanska, who's helping with the recovery and cleanup effort here today.

OKSANA URBANSKA: (Non-English language spoken).

MANN: She told me this search and rescue operation is incredibly hard because these buildings are unstable now and dangerous. But it's also hard because first responders are working side by side with investigators, war crimes investigators, who are gathering physical evidence, which officials here hope will eventually be used in trials against Russians involved in these attacks. And terrible as these missile strikes are, they're part of what the Biden administration also describes as a wider pattern of atrocities by Russia. There's evidence of rape being used as a weapon of intimidation in occupied areas. And this week, Steve, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Russia is forcibly relocating hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians to distant parts of Russia. Blinken says it's imperative that Russia be held accountable.

INSKEEP: Now, that is another thing that I believe is regarded as a war crime - a crime against humanity, actually - forcible relocation, forced migration. Brian, thanks so much.

MANN: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Brian Mann in Ukraine. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Brian Mann
Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.