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Russia is making territorial advances in its invasion of Ukraine

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Russia seems to be making some territorial advances, most notably in the south of the country, where Russian troops have entered the Black Sea port of Kherson. Though, it's not yet clear if the city has actually fallen. The capital, Kyiv, and Ukraine's second-largest city, Kharkiv, are still under government control despite constant shelling even as a massive Russian convoy inches closer to the capital. In Moscow, meanwhile, the cost of the Russian invasion is becoming more apparent to the Russian people. NPR's Charles Maynes joins us now from Moscow. Good morning, Charles.

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: So there's been a lot of rumors of significant Russian losses since the invasion began. Now it seems as if the Kremlin is finally starting to address them.

MAYNES: Yeah. You know, nearly every day, we hear from the defense ministry spokesman, Igor Konashenkov, who rattles off Russian battlefield successes, you know, how many military objects destroyed or towns captured. But late Wednesday, Konashenkov added something we hadn't heard before.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

IGOR KONASHENKOV: (Non-English language spoken).

MAYNES: So here, Konashenkov says 498 Russian soldiers have unfortunately died, and more than 1,500 troops had been injured since the fighting began, even as he insisted Ukraine's army paid an even heavier price. Now, of course, we have no idea of the accuracy of these claims. But this announcement sheds light on what had been, up until now, tightly controlled messaging regarding what the Kremlin insists is a limited military operation. The public's been mostly shielded from the scale of the fighting, with anti-war protesters immediately arrested and media outlets blocked from using words like war or invasion.

FADEL: Right. So we heard yesterday that some media were being taken offline for their critical coverage.

MAYNES: Yeah. And it's gone further since, you know? This morning, we learned that the "Echo Of Moscow," the iconic liberal radio station that's been a fixture of Russia's free press since the end of the USSR, was liquidated by its board of directors. You know, on Tuesday, "Echo's" FM signal went dark after prosecutors accused the station of spreading false information about the war. And many in Russia and certainly beyond will find their closure a deeply troubling sign.

FADEL: So earlier this week, you reported that sanctions had already taken hold. Are they starting to bite even deeper? And how is it affecting ordinary people?

MAYNES: You know, they really have. The ruble has tanked. And the push is now to get cash, as people clearly don't trust electronic banking anymore. So there are long lines at ATMs unless, of course, the cash machines are already emptied out. And that's sometimes been my experience. Meanwhile, Russia's stock index is closed again today. Corporate giants like BP, Ford, Apple are all pulling out of the country. And the larger issue, though, is, you know, do these sanctions punish far beyond those they're intended to hurt? And the answer seems, yes. And so you have to wonder who Russians will blame for the pain. Is it Vladimir Putin or those doing the sanctioning? You know, another big question hovering over all of this is, can these sanctions and any public pressure change the Kremlin's calculus in Ukraine? Putin's spokesman says, no. But we'll see.

FADEL: OK. So let's talk about the diplomatic efforts picking up again today. Delegations from both sides will meet in Belarus again. Is there any sense these talks have any chance of bearing fruit?

MAYNES: Well, it's hard to know how much hope to place in these talks. You know, the team sent by the Kremlin are, shall we say, not political heavyweights here. But more importantly, Ukraine wants Russian troops out, while the Kremlin keeps insisting, essentially, on Ukraine's total surrender.

FADEL: NPR's Charles Maynes in Moscow. Thank you so much.

MAYNES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.