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People in Ukraine pay close attention to Putin's speech on Victory Day


Now, people in Ukraine paid special attention to Putin's speech. And NPR's Frank Langfitt is on the line from Odesa, Ukraine. Hey there, Frank.


INSKEEP: What are you hearing?

LANGFITT: Well, one of the first things you saw in reaction was from Mykhailo Podolyak. He's adviser to President Zelenskyy here. He wrote on Twitter that much of what Charles was talking about that Putin said is simply not true. He writes, let's talk again, NATO countries. We're not going to attack Russia. Ukraine did not plan to attack Crimea. There's no rational reasons for this war, other than the painful imperial ambitions of the Russian Federation.

Now, Zelenskyy - he put out a video today. This wasn't a response to Putin, but it was - own way of acknowledging Victory Day over the Nazis, you know, as we were saying, over - during World War II. And, Steve, he's walking down this empty boulevard in Kyiv, past these giant metal barriers, which are known as tank traps. And he says, on the day of victory over Nazism, we're fighting for a new victory. There are no shackles that can bind our free spirit. We won then. We will win now.

INSKEEP: Oh - a reminder that Ukraine was part of World War II, as well. How is this anniversary being marked where you are, if at all?

LANGFITT: Completely opposite of what Charles was just describing. Everybody here is actually sheltering indoors in Odesa. And that's because the Ukrainian military has told everybody here that just off - out in the Black Sea - I'm looking out towards the horizon right now from my hotel window - six Russian ships have lined up, and there are two subs, and they're in position to launch missiles here on Odesa and in other parts of the south. Now that - as far as I can tell - I haven't heard any sirens this morning. It doesn't seem to have happened yet - may not happen at all. And there's no celebration today of the - obviously a Soviet military victory. After all, you know, Russia has been at war with Ukraine since 2014.

And yesterday, which is the normal day in the rest of Europe when people celebrate V-E Day, as they do in London, where I normally live, people were out riding bikes around the water, went down to seaside cafes. And it was really interesting, Steve. Right where I was, you could hear the boom of antiaircraft missiles taking off, aiming at cruise missiles from the Black Sea, and people would have a little jolt, and then they would just go on about their day.

INSKEEP: Wow. Were people celebrating at all in the Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine?

LANGFITT: Well, there were not popular celebrations. There were manufactured ones. To the east of here, we have the occupied - Russian-occupied port city of Kherson. Basically, the Russians have put in their own government there, turn - trying to turn it into a Russian city. They're putting up billboards with hammers and sickles to celebrate Victory Day, built a stage downtown for the celebration. And I saw on a Russian propaganda channel this morning, people standing in a park waving Soviet flags. They were carrying portraits of Soviet soldiers, and they were chanting, thank you, Grandpa, for the victory. Now, the vast majority of people in Kherson are against the Russian occupation, based on my conversations, and so much so, I think - so much concern - that Russian soldiers actually were setting up checkpoints every hundred yards in the last few days in the city to make sure they could stop people who might try to protest today. And the fear in Kherson, Steve, is that Russia is either going to annex it or hold a fake referendum and turn the region into an independent people's republic.

INSKEEP: Did the fighting and evacuation of civilians stop for the holiday?

LANGFITT: The evacuations, Steve, did continue. About 174 people, mostly from Mariupol, they got out by bus last night. About maybe 36, 38 of them were from that underground maze beneath the steel factory that's been under siege there for so long. It is now not clear if there are any other civilians still trapped there. Another case out in the east as well - that terrible story of the school that was leveled by a Russian bomb, 60 people were missing according to regional authorities there. They say there's still too much shelling for them to do any more excavating. And they presume that those 60 people have died.

INSKEEP: NPR's Frank Langfitt, thanks so much.

LANGFITT: Great to talk, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.