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What Ukrainians are expecting, one year after Russia invaded

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

One year ago today, Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

That's what it sounded like in Kyiv this morning as Ukrainians face down the reality of a Russian invasion.

ANDRIY KULYKOV: Over the past few hours, I've seen explosions in the sky. I've felt the shaking of the windows.

JAMES WATERHOUSE: We now hear the approaching sound of fighting. We can hear the occasional bit of faint gunfire.

FADEL: The war was and is Russian President Vladimir Putin's challenge to the world order, the greatest since World War II. Today, the war enters a second year. Tens of thousands of Ukrainians are believed to be dead. With no access to Russian-occupied territory, it's impossible to know for sure. Millions of people are displaced. Among them is a teenager I met nearly a year ago in a hospital in Kyiv. Russian troops were on the outskirts of the city.

What's your name?

VOVA KARIVANSKY: Vova.

FADEL: Vova?

Vova might be a little hard to understand because his jaw is wired shut. But he still manages a half-smile when we meet him. Vova is short for Voloydymyr, Voloydymyr Karivansky. I ask him about the scar running down the side of his face.

What happened here?

V KARIVANSKY: (Non-English language spoken).

FADEL: A bullet grazed his hand. Two pierced his back, another his foot. The were fleeing their home in a suburb of Kyiv when Vova's mother, Natalia, said Russians shelled the car. She screamed, there are children in here. It was too late. Her husband was killed, so was her 6-year-old nephew, Maxim (ph). Vova survived. When we met him with our interpreter, Tanya Estova (ph), he'd already undergone weeks of surgeries. He couldn't walk, and he was bored in his hospital bed.

V KARIVANSKY: (Through interpreter) I just don't care about this war.

FADEL: Vova's mom jumps in here.

NATALIA KARIVANSKY: (Through interpreter) He's just not completely realized what is happening.

FADEL: Yeah.

We leave his room. And an hour later, we see him in the lobby. A staff member is pushing him in a wheelchair. After nearly a month in a hospital bed, he's out in the world.

Almost a year later, we wanted to know where they ended up. And Tanya helped us find them.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEVICE RINGING)

N KARIVANSKY: Hello.

FADEL: Natalia, how are you? Where are you?

N KARIVANSKY: (Non-English language spoken).

FADEL: In Poland.

And how have you been? I mean, we haven't spoken to you in almost a year. And I remember watching you and your son leave the hospital in Kyiv. I'd love to hear what's happening with your life, how Vova is doing.

N KARIVANSKY: (Through interpreter) Yes, he's able to walk now. He underwent surgery in June. And in the beginning of July, he just started walking.

FADEL: Is Vova with you, by any chance?

N KARIVANSKY: (Non-English language spoken).

FADEL: Hi, Vova. How are you?

V KARIVANSKY: (Through interpreter) Pretty fine.

FADEL: Do you like Poland?

V KARIVANSKY: (Through interpreter) Not really. It's cold here. The language is difficult. School is different. Everything is different.

FADEL: Vova, you sound so clear. I can tell that your jaw must be better now. Are you feeling better? I heard you're walking again. How are you feeling?

V KARIVANSKY: (Through interpreter) Yes, I'm fine now. I underwent rehabilitation. Then I slowly started walking again. And I even can run.

FADEL: You can run?

V KARIVANSKY: (Through interpreter) Yes. I have a dog. So when I walk with her, just I can run and run with her behind.

FADEL: It sounds like you miss home, though, you miss your house in Ukraine. Do you think you'll go home soon?

V KARIVANSKY: (Through interpreter) Yes, I will. I believe this war will be over, our guys kill Putin and we will go home and live happy, calm life.

FADEL: Well, it's so nice to talk to you, Vova. Do you mind passing the phone back to your mom for a minute?

V KARIVANSKY: (Non-English language spoken).

N KARIVANSKY: (Non-English language spoken).

FADEL: It's so nice to hear your son speaking so clearly, saying he can run with his dog again. You know, you've been through so much, Natalia, in a year. Do you feel like this war will ever end?

N KARIVANSKY: (Through interpreter) I hope so. I really want to go home to visit my husband at the cemetery, his grave, because I haven't do this yet.

FADEL: Natalia, thank you so much, Natalia and Vova. I hope the next time that we speak that you're in Ukraine.

N KARIVANSKY: (Through interpreter) We are grateful so that you called us and didn't forget about us.

(Non-English language spoken).

FADEL: Ukrainians do worry that they will be forgotten by the world. And in Russia, paying too much attention to the war could be dangerous. Julia Ioffe is a Russian-born American journalist.

JULIA IOFFE: There are a lot of people who support the war. There are a lot of people who don't want to think about the war. And there are people who are sent off to fight or their relatives are sent off to fight. But they feel they have absolutely no choice in the matter because, otherwise, violence will be meted out against them.

FADEL: We did see, in the first few months of this war, dissent, but also really effective crackdowns on that dissent. What does the anti-war movement look like today?

IOFFE: There is none. The anti-war movement is outside of Russia or it is in jail. Or it is too scared to rear its head. There was a couple who was at a restaurant. And between themselves, they were talking about supporting Ukraine and being against the war. And fellow diners called the police on them. And the police arrived, slammed them into the ground, handcuffed them and took the woman away. College students are ratting out their fellow students for being against the war. Teachers are reporting on their students to the police. And students are telling on their teachers.

There is an atmosphere of fear and paranoia inside Russia that is akin to, maybe, the late 1930s, where people are actively reporting on each other for anti-war sentiment. I mean, that's what a totalitarian or dictatorial regime does. It makes you terrified to speak up. And Putin has done a very effective job of terrifying Russians against speaking up. And those who have spoken up are either in jail or have fled the country en masse. So everybody who's left is either in agreement or too scared to speak up.

FADEL: So where does this war go now? I asked General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Now, Putin has shown no signs that he's interested in ending it. And in fact, it seems like he's more determined than ever. Despite U.S. sanctions, Russia's economy is rebounding. Despite the way that Ukraine has repelled Russian forces, they haven't given up. They've annexed more land, the Russians. So what lever have you not pulled yet that you could pull to get Putin to give up, to change tack?

MARK MILLEY: First of all, there have been indicators, public indicators, from Russia that they would be willing to go to the negotiating table. And then they said, under the conditions that the areas that they have occupied become Russian territory. So that's an unacceptable condition for the Ukrainian people.

And you're correct. Putin has not indicated any sense of a willingness to give up his objectives, except to say that his initial objective was to overrun the country of Ukraine and to topple the Zelenskyy government, seize the capital of Kyiv, all of which he failed to do. So he has actually adjusted his ambitions down to remain in control of those currently Russian-occupied areas, so we'll see. And I think that the battlefield, as difficult as it is and as bloody as it is and as high casualty producing as it is, I think, is something that's going to play a very major factor in both President Zelenskyy and President Putin's calculations as to whether or not to go to the negotiating table and when and under what conditions.

FADEL: On February 24, 2022, did you expect that in a year, you would be talking about a war of attrition between Russia and Ukraine?

MILLEY: As I look back, one of the comments I made to a very senior Russian prior to the invasion, trying to persuade - and I failed to persuade him - not to invade, but I told him that the Ukrainian people are going to fight you. And they're going to fight you hard. The Ukrainian people have been free since 1991. And they do not want to be occupied by a foreign power. And what I had said at the time was, you're going to - you might get into that country in 14 days, but you're not coming out. You're going to have body bags going back for 14 years. It's going to be a bloody, bloody affair. And that's what it turned out to be.

Now, I don't think this war is going to last 14 years, per se. But Ukraine is not going to quit, nor should they. There's a lot at stake here. For Ukraine, it's an existential fight. And it's imperative that Ukraine remain free and independent. So that's in the interest of - obviously, in the interest of Ukraine. But it's in the interest of Europe. It's in the interest, really, of the world.

FADEL: As you heard, this war is an existential threat to the world order. But it's a daily reality for Ukrainians. While they live through the now, many are also planning for the after. Oleksandra Matviichuk is a human rights lawyer who lives in Kyiv. She's the head of the Center for Civil Liberties, which won a Nobel Prize for documenting war crimes in Ukraine.

OLEKSANDRA MATVIICHUK: In post-war Ukraine, when we win, we have to restore not only broken infrastructure - roads, residential buildings and destroyed Ukrainian cities - we need to restore the human belief that rule of law is essential.

FADEL: Ukraine must, she says, win the war of values.

MATVIICHUK: In order to do it, we need to demonstrate justice, because then we will be able, very honestly, to say that, yes, it was a period of temporary disorder when nothing work. And even the whole U.N. system couldn't stop Russian atrocities. But we fix it. We punish war criminals because rule of law is essential. And justice is possible, even though delayed in time.

FADEL: Now, Oleksandra Matviichuk's work is also about protecting the values of her country. She says the longer the war drags on, the greater the risk of becoming a mirror of the opposite side.

(SOUNDBITE OF HANIA RANI'S "DREAMY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.