Mar 1, 2022 - Podcasts

Kyiv residents face a choice: stay or go

As Russian forces continue to attack, more than half a million Ukranians have left the country. But for those who have decided to stay, life is very different than it was just a week ago.

  • Plus, what’s at stake for President Biden in tonight’s State of the Union.
  • And, more than half a million Ukrainians flee to neighboring countries.

Guests: Kyiv-based journalist Kristina Zeleniuk; and Axios' Stef Kight and Mike Allen.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Julia Redpath, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Alex Sugiura, Sabeena Singhani, and Lydia McMullen-Laird. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA BOODHOO: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today! It’s Tuesday, March 1st. I’m Niala Boodhoo. Here’s what you need to know today: what’s at stake for President Biden in tonight’s State of the Union. Plus: more than half a million Ukrainians flee to neighboring countries. Today’s One Big Thing: Kyiv residents face a choice: stay or go.

As Russian forces continue to attack, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians have left the country. But for those who've decided to stay, life looks very different than it did just a few days ago. One of those people is Kristina Zeleniuk [Zay-lin-yook]. She's a Ukrainian journalist currently in Kyiv. Hi, Kristina, thank you for taking the time to speak with us.

KRISTINA ZELENIUK: Hi, nice to hear you.

NIALA: First of all, how are you doing? Have you been able to sleep very much the past couple of days?

KRISTINA: Not so good, but right now I'm sitting in the garage at my parents' house. I'm not in the bomb shelter. So I'm safe, I know, but today I was standing in the queue to, at the pharmacy to buy some medicine and hearing the people who were saying that they are very scared about what is going on right now in Kyiv.

NIALA: Can you share a little bit - would you mind sharing why you wanted to stay in Kyiv to stay in the Capitol now?

KRISTINA: You know, frankly speaking, I'm just thinking about leaving because, um, I began to panic right now. I packed all my things already. Right now we have only one road that connects with Kyiv with other Ukrainian regions. So if they block this road, we will be in a full blockade.

NIALA: Have you been able to get basic necessities? You were saying that you were in a queue at a pharmacy today. Is it hard to get food or medicine right now?

KRISTINA: Yes, it’s very hard. We don’t have any bread right now, for example. Today, I stood in the line to the pharmacy for two hours and there are no medicines, for example, for heart. So people who have problems with heart, they don't have a chance to buy any lifesaving medicines, you know, there is a lack of it.

And, uh, for another two hours today, also I stood in the line at the supermarket to buy something to eat. And, there are, you know, empty, empty shelf there. So I didn't know what is waiting for us here. So, as I said, I packed all my things and if I receive the news that there is a risk and danger of full blockade of Kyiv, I will be leaving Kyiv.

NIALA: That just sounds really tough. It sounds like a very tough decision to make.

KRISTINA: Because we have a house here, you know, our life and in one day it can disappear.

NIALA: Please stay safe. And thank you for taking the time to speak with us in the middle of all of this.

KRISTINA: Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you.

NIALA: Kristina Zeleniuk is a Ukrainian journalist based in Kyiv.

In 15 seconds - understanding exactly what’s happening at Ukraine’s borders…as people flee the country.

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodhoo. We were just talking to Kristina, who's trying to decide whether or not to stay in Kiev. According to the UN, more than 520,000 Ukrainians have already made that decision and have gone to neighboring countries since Russia's invasion. You want officials are also warning that up to 5 million people could flee the country. Axios’ Steph Kight has been reporting on this. Stef, I'm hoping you can take us behind these numbers: How many people are estimated to be at the borders, trying to cross over into another country, right now?

STEF KIGHT: You know, we've heard a lot of reports of long lines of people trying to flee. In some cases, the lines are so long that people have decided to wait before they actually try and cross one of the borders. Um, but we're seeing numbers already growing substantially in many of these neighboring countries, including as of the latest numbers, more than 280,000 Ukrainians who have now gone to Poland, 94,000 Ukrainians who have gone to Hungary, and even Romania with 34,000 and Moldova, which is a small country of only, you know, around 3 million people which has taken in now nearly 40,000 Ukrainians.

NIALA: Can you put in context for us what these numbers look like within Europe?

STEF: We've heard from the UN that really, this has been such a fast exodus of people from Ukraine. It's forced neighboring countries to quickly prepare to receive them. So this is something that really is unique, even as you've continued to see a growing refugee population around the world.

NIALA: You said the numbers are rising? What does that look like?

STEF: As of mid 2021, there were 84 million people who had been forcibly displaced from their homes and that's around the world. And that's according to estimates from the UN.

NIALA: Stef, how are we seeing neighboring countries responding? Is everyone being let in?

STEF: We really are seeing a pretty welcoming response from most of these neighboring countries to Ukraine. But of course, that hasn't always been the case, even looking back to recent refugee crises, like the Syrian refugee crisis in 2015. One thing to keep in mind is that every year we've been seeing the overall number of people who have been forcibly displaced from their homes, around the world, grow, And the UN statistics haven't even yet taken into account the situation in Afghanistan. And now the situation in Ukraine, which is just forcing so many more people to resettle in countries that they've not known or grown up in in many cases. And it's something that I've spoken to a lot of the refugee organizations about, and they are…they're stretched. They're doing everything they can to care for these people. But there is a lot going on around the world and the numbers are continuing to climb.

NIALA: Axios’ political reporter, Stef Kight. Thank you, Stef.

STEF: Thanks for having me.

NIALA: President Biden will give his first State of the Union address tonight – and he heads into the night with polling showing his approval rating – at least according to a new Washington Post ABC News Poll – at a record low of 37 percent. Axios’ Mike Allen is with me: Mike, what are you watching for tonight?

MIKE ALLEN: Niala, the fact that Europe will be at war when President Biden steps into the House chamber changes everything for this speech. He has to meet the moment: Ukrainians are fighting in the street for their freedom. Why it matters: The global order has been shaken like it hasn't been since the fall of the Soviet Union 30 years ago. At the same time at home, President Biden has a frazzled, pessimistic country on his hands. He's going to try to send a back to normal signal between this address and a COVID speech we expect later in March. He'll say kids should be back in school, more federal workers should be back in the office. Why that matters: It's all part of acknowledging people are exhausted by the pandemic. He has to meet them where they are without sounding defensive. Niala, that's a lot. And in drafts, the speech has been long. We're told it could be over an hour.

NIALA: Mike Allen is co-founder of Axios, and writes the Axios AM and PM newsletters.

One last thing before we go today: A major new scientific report out yesterday says people the world over are already dying because of climate change… and that without big, transformational changes to society, much of the world will soon face irreversible damage. That means more extreme weather harming more people… and that parts of the planet could even become uninhabitable. There is still time to keep the worst from happening, according to the report... but the window is closing.

So - you’ve probably heard about alarming reports like this before. And this is a challenge for me as a journalist - we talk about this with our pod team all the time. How we can do a better job helping you be informed about the latest climate information? What do you want to hear about climate change? What questions do you have? What are you scared of and where do you see hope? Record a voice memo including your name and location, and text it to me at (202) 918-4893. And we’ll put a link to the new UN report in our show notes.

That’s it for today – I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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