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Mariupol theater rescue continues as Russia's invasion of Ukraine enters its 4th week

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

The Russian invasion of Ukraine entered its fourth week today. Since the fighting began, air raid sirens have wailed all across the country. The bombardment has left hardly any region untouched. And fighting continues outside the capital, Kyiv, and the eastern regions and in the south, including in the city of Mariupol. The Russian military has encircled that city, and it faces dire and deteriorating conditions. NPR's Tim Mak joins us from central Ukraine with the latest. Hey, Tim.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: Hey there.

SUMMERS: Let's start with Mariupol, that southern port city. What is the latest there?

MAK: Well, we've been paying particularly close attention to the bombardment of the city's theater, which since the onset of the war, has become a bomb shelter. Now, hundreds of civilians had been taking cover there when it was hit by a strike, according to Ukrainian officials. Satellite imagery from the company Maxar Technologies shows that before the bombing, the Russian word for children was actually written in large white letters on the asphalt outside the theater so as to be visible from the air. Now, Russia's defense ministry has denied that it struck the theater. And meanwhile, local officials have said that subsequent shelling of the area has prevented any reliable estimates of how many casualties there might have been in the attack.

SUMMERS: You know, that just raises a lot of questions. Beyond that bombing, what has it been like for residents of that city?

MAK: Well, it's been really quite grave. Now, Ukrainian officials estimate that more than 2,300 people have died in Mariupol over the last few weeks. There's been shortages of food, of water, of medicine, and those shortages are making the prospects for civilians increasingly difficult. The city council of Mariupol says that dozens of bombs are being dropped on the city per day, something between 50 to 100, depending on the day. Mariupol, you might remember, was the site of a now infamous bombing at a maternity hospital where a famous photo of a wounded pregnant woman on a stretcher was taken. She and her baby subsequently died. A small number of civilians have been able to get out of the city, but hundreds of thousands remain trapped there. The conditions in the embattled port city have become a cause for international concern. Earlier this week, Pope Francis appealed for an end to the violence around the city, a city which he noted bears the name of the Virgin Mary.

SUMMERS: Another major region where fighting has been widespread is the area around the capital city of Kyiv. Tim, have there been any new developments there?

MAK: Well, fighting continues outside the city center as Russians attempt to inch forward, but the Russian military appears stalled in its continued efforts to try to encircle the city. But last night, a Russian rocket was shot down and struck a 16-story building in Kyiv, killing one individual. The city actually emerged this morning from a multi-day curfew in which civilians were not permitted to be on the streets or move around the city. This is the second time such a curfew had been implemented, a multi-day curfew, since the beginning of the war. Local officials said that this curfew had allowed them to track down numerous groups of saboteurs operating in the capital city.

SUMMERS: Like we've seen in Mariupol, civilians have really been devastated by the impact of the war. What does the future look like for them as this war continues?

MAK: Well, civilians have been deeply impacted, like you say. The Ukrainian government said that a U.S. citizen had been killed in Chernihiv, Ukraine. That's located in the northern part of the country. A state department official confirmed the death of a U.S. citizen, but declined to give any further details other than to offer sincere condolences. The U.N. development program said that if the war continues, more than 90% of the country could be at risk of poverty by the end of the year. And 3.1 million people have fled the country since the war began.

SUMMERS: NPR's Tim Mak in Ukraine, thank you.

MAK: Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.