Russian Aid Convoy Parked Near Ukraine Border
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
A humanitarian aid convoy from Russia has reached the border with Ukraine and hit a wall of suspicion. Now, let's remember Ukraine is battling a rebellion. Russia is suspected of using this convoy to extend its own influence there. Courtney Weaver of The Financial Times is riding along with this convoy. And she says the truckloads of aid appear white and harmless from a distance.
COURTNEY WEAVER: In reality, they've been tarped over with white tarp or painted white, and then, when they started to open up the vehicles, you see the green on the inside. So these are standard Russian military trucks.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
So military trucks carrying food as well as sleeping bags - the larger question for Weaver, though, is whether the Russians are also preparing to send force across the border.
WEAVER: Two of my colleagues were around the border last night. They saw about 23 armed personnel carriers waiting at the border and then actually going across later that night. These are correspondence for The Guardian and for The Telegraph.
GREENE: That's the voice of Courtney Weaver. She's a reporter for The Financial Times, and she has been following this Russian Convoy that has now stopped very close to the border with Ukraine.
Let's now turn to another voice just to the west inside Ukraine. It's NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson. She is on the line with us. Soraya, good morning.
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Good morning, David.
GREENE: Help us understand exactly where you are.
NELSON: Well, I'm outside of a town that translates into happiness in Ukrainian - Shchastya is what it's called. It's very close to Luhansk, which of course is the rebel-held city that's being very violently fought over. I mean, even from where we're standing - we're about 15 miles northwest of that point - we can hear the shelling that's going on, unclear, you know, which side is shelling who. But there have been pretty steady sequences of booms. We have seen a military convoy go by that was carrying what appeared to be pro-Russian separatist prisoners. They were blindfolded and had their hands tied behind their back. And again, a steady stream of military vehicles that are moving along this road outside that town.
GREENE: So prisoners you mentioned there, Soraya, you're saying these are pro-Russian rebel fighters who have essentially been taken prisoner by the Ukrainian military?
NELSON: Well, certainly that's what they appear to be. They were in a Ukrainian military convoy that was moving north from Luhansk. And they were again, headed away from the area of the fighting.
GREENE: And the city of Luhansk, you mentioned, is largely controlled by the pro-Russian rebels. That is basically between where you are and the Russian-Ukrainian border. And, you know, this convoy from Russia may or may not be coming in. There's all this talk of humanitarian aid being needed. And the Ukrainians as well are talking about the need for humanitarian assistance. What exactly are they saying?
NELSON: So they sent three convoys - one from Kiev, one from Kharkiv here in the East and one from Dnipropetrovs'k, which is west of here but in the southern part. They're sending these humanitarian aid convoys - 75 trucks with 800 tons of food and supplies to the East here. And we did see one of the convoys arrived yesterday - or actually this morning in (unintelligible) - and all night long state rescue workers were unloading these goods. We saw potatoes, onions, toilet paper, you name it. And they were putting it in a warehouse for the International Committee of the Red Cross to distribute to communities that are in need and that have more recently been taken back by the Ukrainian military.
GREENE: What exactly is the need, Soraya? What are the conditions for people here that, you know, is requiring assistance?
NELSON: Well, it's wildly different wherever we are. I mean, certainly where we were last night, which is not that far from places where you have refugee transit centers, it was perfectly normal. But then other places have no water, no electricity. Luhansk, the city officials there reported about a quarter of a million people are without electricity and water. We talked to residents who've recently fled Luhansk were talking about every morning having to trek long distances to find water and food to bring back to their homes which had no electricity or Internet. In fact, the gentleman we spoke to yesterday said that they had had none of that for close to, you know, two months. So there's definitely a growing humanitarian need here - a lot of very shell-shocked residents, too. I mean, the fighting is pretty intense in the areas where pro-Russian forces are clashing with the Ukrainian military.
GREENE: All right, we've been speaking with NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson who is in a still very tense Eastern Ukraine, where there's a lot of need for humanitarian assistance and a lot of fighting still taking place. Soraya, thanks very much.
NELSON: You're welcome, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.