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2022 Lawton, Oklahoma Chautauqua June 21 - 25

Russian forces appear to be preparing for a new attempt to take Kyiv

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Ukraine's capital city is still under Ukrainian control, despite more than two weeks of Russian attacks aimed at capturing the seat of power. Now Russian forces appear to be preparing for a new attempt to take Kyiv. That is where we reached Olha Stefanishyna, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister of European and Euro-Atlantic Integration. She told our co-host Leila Fadel that the attacks in the West were not a surprise.

OLHA STEFANISHYNA: We weren't prepared for any kind of scenario, including assaults on the western part of Ukraine. Basically, that means that Putin is, again, raising the stakes in the negotiations before the next round of bilateral talks. He has started to put ultimatums, which are going beyond Ukrainian border. For example, the ultimatums that NATO to stop any kind of cooperation with Ukraine, to put different threats about a no-fly zone, about the flights and the jets. This war is not the war in Ukraine. It's the war for his influence and for his, like, way he sees the world. And the recent assault and, basically, attacks on the military infrastructure - air drones, airports and military bases. This is, let's say, an attempt to legalize (unintelligible) internationally, but also trying to weaken our army by destroying the military infrastructure - like, most secured part of the territory of Ukraine.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

That base - was that a base where foreign fighters for the Legion were training?

STEFANISHYNA: Yeah. This was the largest training base in Ukraine since many years ago, but especially in - since 2014. All the international trainers and battalions were training there together with Ukrainian Armed Forces, in terms of the capacity building, ensuring the proper ability and et cetera. So this was an targeted assault. More than 30 rockets were targeted to this area. But this shows that there's no secure areas. They have the capacity, but we have the highest level of preparedness.

FADEL: NATO, the U.S., have made it very clear that they will not implement a no-fly zone, that this would be seen as direct combat with Russia. And leaders in Europe and the U.S. say it risks a wider war. What's your response to that?

STEFANISHYNA: Well, I think it's very important not to think what would be the consequences of taking it, but rather thinking, what would be the consequences of not taking it? It is absolutely clear their air defense is something which is used constantly by Russian Federation to attack the civilians, to destroy the people of Ukraine. So, of course, the position of NATO was precise and clear. But still, there is also a UN platform who could still make this decision, even having Russia in the Security Council. So it is still legally possible to take this decision and also to protect the sky in humanitarian purposes. And in that regard, there should be no difference between Russia and Iran or any other country.

FADEL: But the difference is is that Russia has threatened use of nukes, and they have nuclear power. And European leaders, American leaders, have said this risks World War III.

STEFANISHYNA: Yes, you know, but they have already captured two nuclear stations in Ukraine. And Putin does not have to push the button. He can just simply put a group of uneducated officers only, like - that are riding by (unintelligible) throughout the area. Already increased the level of radiation without any actions taken. So just, like, going throughout this area is something that increases the risk. So you don't have to wait until he will push the button. He can do it right ahead, and he already threatens that.

FADEL: Russia's now in control of one of Ukraine's power plants. It also has control of Chernobyl, and Russian forces are approaching another power plant. What happens if Russian forces seize control of more of these plants?

STEFANISHYNA: Well, I would start by saying that the first 24 hours of war, when they captured the Chernobyl station, this was the target they were attempting to capture. And what we did - we reached all the international organizations and immediately demanded two things - to ensure the secure area in Chernobyl, but also to hold Russia obliged to withdraw its forces and ensure the security of the station. But so far, all the international organizations failed to do anything meaningful in terms of, like, securing these objects, except planning some visits and showing concerns.

But you should really hear me. The Russian Armed Forces - these are the armed forces - they are now physically in this part of area. Nobody has access to that. And nobody, except them, ensures they are functioning. And basically, anything could happen any day. They just get the order, and they implement it. Anything could happen.

FADEL: I do want to ask you about your own security. We've heard now of Russian forces taking two mayors hostage since the invasion started. What does this mean for other officials like you?

STEFANISHYNA: We do not really put a line between officials and the citizens of Ukraine who are suffering enormously. There's been assassinated, the womens been raped and the mens were killed. Many, many children were left without their parents and families. Many children has died, basically. And we never couldn't understand what was the purpose of bombing the maternity houses or hospitals or schools or kindergartens.

FADEL: You said women are being raped. Where is that happening?

STEFANISHYNA: There is a major number of areas which are being taken under control of the Russian Armed Forces, like Hostomel, some cities in the southern part of Ukraine, including around the Kyiv area. We have fixed all these cases to the extent we could have because simply the armed forces and Ukrainian officials do not have access to this area, and we have provided all international organizations which has any kind of mandate in that regard. This is crime against humanity. This is not a war. This is a terror.

FADEL: Russian forces have struggled trying to take Kyiv. It's seen as the prize for Vladimir Putin. But they are closing in on the city. Is there any scenario in which you would consider leaving Kyiv?

STEFANISHYNA: Well, I'm not a military person. I mean, we all are now military people in the government. But I have the full confidence that Kyiv is standing on its - two of its legs, and Kyiv will resist by any price.

FADEL: Olha Stefanishyna, Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration of Ukraine, talking to us via Skype. Thank you for taking the time.

STEFANISHYNA: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEEB'S "FLUID DYNAMICS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.