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Biden says U.S. intelligence signals Russia has decided it will invade Ukraine

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

President Biden has said he's convinced that Vladimir Putin has made a decision and will invade Ukraine. The president reiterated that Russia will face unprecedented sanctions if such a military invasion takes place.

We're joined now from Ukraine's capital, Kyiv, by NPR's Joanna Kakissis. Thanks so much for being with us.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Thanks for having me, Scott.

SIMON: And there has been an escalation in tensions and even loss of life over the past 24 hours. What can you tell us?

KAKISSIS: So one Ukrainian soldier was killed overnight on the front line in the east in the Donetsk region. This is the first casualty since January. He died of a shrapnel wound to the head. And over the past 24 hours, we have also seen increased shelling in the Donbas region. Several Ukrainian towns were hit, with a kindergarten and several schools shelled.

On Friday, we talked to a woman in the town of Popasna. Her name is Natalia Ovcharanko (ph). She heads an after-school program for kids with disabilities. And she says she has not seen this amount of shelling in five or six years.

NATALIA OVCHARANKO: (Through interpreter) Parents are packing and making plans to leave because the situation is very tense. They are afraid to let their children go to school. Shelling can happen at any moment. Everyone is very scared.

KAKISSIS: We also spoke to the niece of a 65-year-old man living in a village in the Russian-backed occupied area in eastern Ukraine. This man told his niece that all men living in Russian-occupied territories who are between the ages of 18 and 55 must stay home and be prepared to fight. This man himself is too old to fight, but he is very worried about his young relatives.

SIMON: How was President Biden's address received in Ukraine?

KAKISSIS: So reactions were mixed as Ukrainians were waking up today. The hottest topic in Ukraine overnight was actually a famous political talk show where the editor-in-chief of a prominent news website slapped a pro-Russian politician on live TV. And this is - by the way, this is not the first time this pro-Russian politician was slapped on live TV. So Biden's remarks were sort of second fiddle to that drama.

Ukrainians are also asking why hasn't President Zelenskyy addressed the nation? Why are we only hearing from the American president? And, you know, what is Zelenskyy doing today? He's flying to Munich for the Munich Security Conference, where many Western leaders are in heated discussions about Ukraine. And he is scheduled to return to Ukraine later today.

SIMON: Joanna, you've been reporting from Ukraine for three weeks now. What's changed, in your estimation, during that time?

KAKISSIS: So on the surface, life here seems largely unchanged. Ukrainians are used to living next to an aggressive neighbor. But with all that's happening right now, they are sensing a worsening psychological war with Russia.

We spoke to a defense expert here, Alexander Khara. He says Ukrainians have received more than a thousand bomb threats since last year. I was recently in the western city of Lviv, which is about as far away from Russia as you can get in Ukraine, and the residents there told me they get text messages about bomb threats every single day. And, you know, none of these bomb threats are real. They are all fake. Ukrainian police in Lviv have traced them to a bot farm run by Russian-affiliated trolls. And the parents we spoke to say they now shrug off news of any bomb threats. They say, whatever, it's just another bot.

But I was talking about this with some parents, and I saw this flash of panic on the face of one parent, a mother of five. Her eyes widened and she said, you know, what if the next bomb threat is actually a bomb and we dismiss it? What if the Russians are trying to numb us to danger so we just don't sense it anymore? Stress like this is very real and very constant.

SIMON: NPR's Joanna Kakissis in Kyiv, thanks so much for being with us.

KAKISSIS: You're welcome, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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