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Ukraine Faces Buildup Outside The Border And Fatigue Within


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Audie Cornish. Now to the war in Ukraine and some fears of a new Russian invasion. NATO says Russian forces have been building up at the Ukrainian border, and fighting around the city of Donetsk has intensified. Earlier today we reached Anton Troianovski. He's a reporter for the Wall Street Journal. He was just in Ukraine. He spoke to us from Moscow, and he says an invasion does not seem imminent. Russian officials deny there's even a true buildup.

ANTON TROIANOVSKI: The Russian Defense Ministry said, today, that these allegations are nonsense. They said they feel sorry for the spokespeople at the Pentagon and at the State Department who have to say this. So Russia and Putin are very much continuing to deny that they're building up troops in the first place. And we saw more of that defiance today when President Putin announced that Russia would be putting sanctions on imports of some agricultural products from countries that have put sanctions on Russia.

CORNISH: What has been the argument out of NATO about what a potential pretext could be for Russia to invade?

TROIANOVSKI: Well, NATO's been talking about Russia using a humanitarian or peacekeeping mission as a pretext to put troops into Ukraine. And you can see their reason for saying that by watching Russian TV. There are constantly reports here of the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Ukraine. There's no question that it is really bad for the people there, and we're likely to see more bloodshed as Ukraine tries to retake Donetsk and Luhansk, the main, rebel-held cities. But you may see Russia say that peacekeepers are needed to calm the situation.

CORNISH: As you've mentioned, Donetsk is an epicenter of the fighting. Can you give us some sense of how rebels are doing there, or are Ukrainian forces making gains?

TROIANOVSKI: You know, Ukrainian forces did make gains in the days after the Malaysia Airlines flight was shot down, but in the last few days we've sort of seen those gains grind to a halt. The separatists are battening down the hatches in these key cities that they control. And as you mentioned, the main one there is Donetsk which is a city that, until recently, was home to about a million people. What the Ukrainian Army is trying to do there is basically encircle Donetsk - prevent the rebels from getting resupplied. And it's obviously an open question as to how they can do that without huge civilian casualties. They have been telling people there to leave, and from reports on the ground, we do understand that it's basically become a ghost town at this point.

CORNISH: Meanwhile, what kind of effect is this having on Kiev? Is there, essentially, war fatigue? This is an economy that's in shambles and many people who are having loved ones killed or drafted.

TROIANOVSKI: You know, I was just in Kiev looking into this very thing, and it is a really tough time there. You had this exuberance this winter when those street protests toppled pro-Russian President Yanukovych. And now war fatigue is starting to set in. More and more families are having people they know forced to go into the fighting. And at the same time, the economy which was already very fragile has been really struggling as a result of the fighting. So that's a really big problem, and it's probably going to become a problem for Ukrainian President Petra Poroshenko as he tries to keep people on board with his effort to rout the separatists in the East.

CORNISH: That's Anton Troianovski with the Wall Street Journal. He spoke to us from Moscow. Thanks so much for speaking with us.

TROIANOVSKI: My pleasure - thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.