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What the Russian invasion is like for villages in western Ukraine

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

It's been nearly a week since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. A 40-mile-long Russian convoy pushing toward the capital of Kyiv remains stalled, and logistical challenges continue to plague the Russian military.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

But many of Ukraine's largest cities have been under siege. One of them is Kherson, a port city on the Black Sea.

VITALY: I hear outside right now there's like rocket launchers and lots of shootings going on. Russian troops are walking the streets.

PFEIFFER: That's a 22-year-old college student named Vitaly (ph). For his safety, we're using only his first name. An NPR team was in Kherson just a few weeks ago, and we've been keeping in touch with Vitaly since then.

VITALY: In my neighborhood, there was a man. Yesterday, he went outside. And he wanted to buy some food. And unfortunately for him, there was a bomb. And, well, that bomb tore apart this man. And, well, I don't know what to say anymore.

SHAPIRO: Kherson remains fiercely contested. There are conflicting reports as to who is in control. It would be the first major city in Ukraine to fall to the Russian military. In a pleading Facebook post, Kherson's mayor asked for a humanitarian corridor that could get food and medical supplies into the besieged city. Without all this, the city will perish, he wrote.

PFEIFFER: The heaviest fighting is in central and Eastern Ukraine, but the entire country is mobilizing a defense. Our colleagues Lauren Frayer and Ryan Lucas drove into Ukraine from Poland today and sent us this dispatch from villages in the western part of the country.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Is this another checkpoint? Yeah. Oh.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Yeah. They've got a Ukrainian flag. There's sandbags. And they've got some traffic backed up, checking cars, what's in trunk, stuff like that.

FRAYER: They have firewood piled up at the checkpoint. It looks like they're going to be here all night, so they've got a fire going to stay warm.

LUCAS: This was one of more than a half-dozen checkpoints on a roughly 75-mile drive across western Ukraine. On the roads, armed men checking documents and peering into the trunks of cars. Inside villages and towns, though, stores are decently stocked. Gas stations generally have fuel. And people are out shopping. But the war hangs over everything.

(CROSSTALK)

FRAYER: We meet a 60-year-old woman with a kerchief tied on her head, pushing a bicycle. Her name is Nadya (ph). She doesn't want to give her surname because even though she's in what's considered to be the safest part of Ukraine right now, she's scared.

NADYA: (Non-English language spoken).

FRAYER: She describes how a Ukrainian military base right across the street from where we are was hit on the first day of the war. It was a really rare Russian strike so far west. Nadya was with her grandchildren. They heard the explosions.

NADYA: (Non-English language spoken).

FRAYER: She says both her daughter and son are in the military. Both are serving, now fighting.

LUCAS: We've been talking to Nadya for only a minute or two, and a man with the Territorial Defense Force pulls up in a van.

(CROSSTALK)

LUCAS: He wants to know who we are and asked to see our press cards. We tell him that we're journalists headed for western Ukraine's largest city of Lviv. He seems satisfied with that and warms up, and then introduces us to a couple of women. And we follow them to a building off the main road.

FRAYER: This is a muddy little path down to a house, down a - sort of behind a church, through some farmland. And it's where some women are preparing food for the fighters. Oh, it smells good walking into here.

TATIANA PROTSEK: (Non-English language spoken).

FRAYER: Tatiana Protsek's (ph) role in the war is in the kitchen. Ukrainian men are being conscripted to fight. This is how these women are contributing - by cooking copious amounts of food for soldiers, police and everyone manning all those checkpoints around the clock.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOOD BUBBLING)

FRAYER: Salads, pierogis. Wow. These are like buckets of chicken.

PROTSEK: (Non-English language spoken).

FRAYER: "This is the way we fight," Tatiana laughs. Among the women here is Dana Luhonovich (ph), a postal worker who's on her day off. One of her daughters lives in America. Her other daughter is a soldier fighting on the front line in the port city of Mariupol.

DANA LUHONOVICH: (Non-English language spoken).

FRAYER: "I'm worried. I'm crying. I'm praying," she says, "that everything will be OK."

LUCAS: The other women briefly abandon their pots of stew and surround Dana with hugs. As we leave them, the women say goodbye with a slogan that's heard throughout Ukraine these days.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMEN: (Non-English language spoken).

LUCAS: "Glory to Ukraine," they say. "Glory to the heroes."

Ryan Lucas...

FRAYER: ...And Lauren Frayer...

LUCAS: ...NPR News...

FRAYER: In Kalyniv (ph), Ukraine. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.