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Ukrainian President Zelenskyy spoke to Parliament to ask for global assistance

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy gave an impassioned speech today to Britain's House of Commons. He pleaded for global assistance for his country, even as Russia's military assault on Ukraine rages on. Meanwhile, the U.N. says more than 2 million Ukrainians have fled the country in the past 13 days, half of them children. NPR's Ryan Lucas is in western Ukraine and joins us now. Hi, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: So Zelenskyy delivered this address to British lawmakers by video. He is still physically in Ukraine, as far as we know. Can you just tell us more about what he said today?

LUCAS: Well, Zelenskyy spoke for a little less than 10 minutes, and he described what Ukraine has had to endure since Russia attacked. Its cities are being shelled, schools, homes, hospitals destroyed and, of course, civilians being killed. He said Ukraine did not want this war, but he said it is fighting, and it will continue to fight.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY: (Speaking Ukrainian).

LUCAS: In a nod to Shakespeare, Zelenskyy is saying here, to be or not to be is a question that could be asked about Ukraine when Russia invaded, but he says it's a question that Ukraine has answered quite clearly now. He says Ukraine will be, and it will be free. And he echoed Britain's own wartime leader, Winston Churchill. He said Ukraine will fight in the air, at sea, in the forests and fields until the very end, and he called on Britain to help in that fight, including by imposing more sanctions on Russia.

CHANG: And, Ryan, where do the battle lines stand right now? Like, how much is Russia advancing at this point?

LUCAS: The state of play on the ground hasn't changed a whole lot in the past few days. In general, Russia is having better success in the south than in the north. Their advance on the capital of Kyiv, for example, remains stuck for now. It hasn't moved much in the past couple days. The same can be said for the battle around Ukraine's second-largest city, Kharkiv. The fighting, though, continues to take a major toll on civilians in this country. The southern city of Mariupol, for example, is under siege. There's no heat, no water, residents say. Many other cities are facing similar challenges to one degree or another.

CHANG: Yeah. Well, there have been attempts in recent days to set up humanitarian corridors to get civilians out of cities that are under attack. Many of those attempts have failed. There was another try today, I understand. Were a lot of people able to get out?

LUCAS: Russia's Defense Ministry this morning announced cease-fires for Kyiv and a few other cities, including Mariupol in the south and Sumy in the north. In Sumy, officials say that around 60 buses were able to get people out of the city today. We spoke this evening with a woman who lives in Sumy. Her name is Natalia Yesina, and she's trying to figure out what to do in the days ahead.

NATALIA YESINA: (Speaking Ukrainian).

LUCAS: What she's saying here is that she hasn't made up her mind yet whether she will evacuate. She says she has a 13-year-old son that she's responsible for, and so she's still trying to decide what to do, and it's not an easy decision. Most of these humanitarian corridors have come under fire - we saw that today even in Mariupol - and civilians trying to get out have been killed in past days. So there's very little trust that Russia will hold its fire, but the humanitarian situation, of course, in a lot of places, is getting increasingly worse. So hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians are going to have to make a choice. And now Russia is saying this evening that it will open more humanitarian corridors tomorrow in several cities. But again, it's worth repeating - there's very little trust among Ukrainians that Russia is good to its word.

CHANG: All right. That is NPR's Ryan Lucas reporting from western Ukraine. Thank you so much for your reporting, Ryan.

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

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