As Russia keeps up its attack, how long can Ukraine hold the capital city?
A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:
As Russia intensified its attack on Ukraine, the Kremlin says this morning that it is prepared to meet with Ukrainian negotiators. This comes after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy appealed to Russia to sit down at the negotiating table to, quote, "stop the killing." Zelenskyy said the Russian invasion has killed 137 Ukrainian troops and civilians; hundreds more have been wounded. NPR's Tim Mak is in Ukraine.
So, Tim, where are you right now, and what are you seeing?
TIM MAK, BYLINE: Well, I'm standing right now in a field in central Ukraine. Like so many others, we're using these small, rural routes in order to travel in order to avoid the major roads, where we've seen a lot of reports of traffic jams and clogs as people try to escape Kyiv and push towards other areas.
MARTÍNEZ: Tim, what's the latest regarding the fighting and an update on the battlefield?
MAK: Obviously, it's a very fluid situation. But we're receiving some reports that the initial stages are not going as well for the Russian military as they might have hoped. A strategic airport 15 kilometers west of Kyiv was initially captured by a Russian air assault, and it would have given them the opportunity to land forces right outside the capital city. But Ukrainian forces have now recaptured it in a counteroffensive. Ukrainians are also reporting that they've halted an element of Russian tanks north of Kyiv by blowing up a key bridge. The Ukrainian defense minister called on residents in a northwest suburb of Kyiv to prepare Molotov cocktails for the ongoing fighting.
MARTÍNEZ: So, Tim, what does all this mean for the next few days?
MAK: Well, the outlook really still looks quite bleak for the Ukrainians. So while they're claiming some positive news, there are some signs that the Russian military is pushing closer to Kyiv. And more troops have been seen in Belarus, headed in the direction of the capital city. A senior American defense official says that this is just the initial stage of a longer, larger-scale attack and invasion, with the Russians making the taking of Kyiv one of their key priorities. Western intelligence predicts that Kyiv will be encircled and that the Russian military will be able to do so soon due to overwhelming military superiority. A senior Western intelligence official says that the Russian government seeks the removal of the Ukrainian government and the installation of a puppet regime, also foreseeing a brutal occupation ahead.
MARTÍNEZ: How do things look, generally, on the ground where you are?
MAK: From the folks that we've been speaking to out here, there's a real sense of shock. I mean, many Ukrainians did not think the war would break out in such a dramatic and large-scale fashion. We spoke to Halyna Oleksander (ph), a Ukrainian who gathered along with many men of all ages in a town square in central Ukraine to enlist in the military.
HALYNA OLEKSANDER: It's unbelievable for all of us because always they said that we are brothers; we are brother nations.
MAK: Ukrainians are still digesting what this dramatic development means for their future. But what is clear is that military-age males all across this country are mobilizing for the coming fighting.
MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Tim Mak. Tim, thanks a lot.
MAK: Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.