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Kharkiv residents welcome green light to use U.S. weapons on Russian targets

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Ukraine can now use Western weapons to fire into Russian territory but only from the northeastern border region near Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city. Russian forces bomb Kharkiv nearly every day, and the Ukrainians who live there say they hope they can now defend themselves. NPR's Joanna Kakissis reports.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: During a rare break from air raid sirens in Kharkiv, Anna Miroshnichenko relaxes with her friends in a downtown park. They have all heard the big news that the U.S. will allow Ukraine to fire Western weapons at Russian forces in Russia.

ANNA MIROSHNICHENKO: (Through interpreter) We are very pleased because we can now fire at and destroy their weapons. And then Kharkiv will not be shelled so often.

KAKISSIS: The U.S. took too long to make this change, she says, and there's been so much damage. Earlier this month, Russia launched a cross-border offensive outside Kharkiv. Thousands were forced to evacuate, including Miroshnichenko's mother and grandmother.

MIROSHNICHENKO: (Through interpreter) My mother would like to come back, but the town doesn't exist anymore. And honestly, it's unlikely that it will be rebuilt.

KAKISSIS: She says maybe the town could have been saved if the U.S, had acted sooner. She does not want to believe the United States could be afraid of Russia.

MIROSHNICHENKO: No. This is USA.

KAKISSIS: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had been pleading with the U.S. for weeks to lift the ban. During a state visit to Sweden on Friday, Zelenskyy welcomed the change.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY: This is some step forward to make possibility to defend our people who lived in the villages through the borderline.

KAKISSIS: It's also a way to defend Kharkiv, a city of more than a million people terrorized for weeks by Russian strikes. Late Thursday night, a missile hit an apartment building, killing five people. A distraught man looking for his wife screamed out her name. The strike happened near the home of Maria Aharkova, who is still in shock.

MARIA AHARKOVA: (Speaking Ukrainian).

KAKISSIS: "This is our city," she says, "and we're just doing our best to survive." Joanna Kakissis, NPR News, Kharkiv. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Joanna Kakissis is a foreign correspondent based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she reports poignant stories of a conflict that has upended millions of lives, affected global energy and food supplies and pitted NATO against Russia.