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As Russia threatens its neighbor Ukraine, how are Ukrainians reacting?


So how does all this look and feel from Ukraine?

NPR's Eleanor Beardsley is in the capital city, Kiev.

Eleanor, good morning.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: Before we get to what Ukrainians are making of all this, what are officials there telling you about these meetings and this standoff?

BEARDSLEY: Well, you know, Ukrainians keep saying no decisions about Ukraine's future without Ukraine. But this being said, the country's foreign minister says Ukraine remains united with the U.S. to continue to pursue diplomacy to get, you know, the Russians to pull back. And he says they've shown that they're not going to negotiate about European security guarantees until Moscow withdraws the troops. Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called for a summit between Kiev, Moscow, Paris and Berlin to try to put an end to this conflict in the East. What's really clear, Rachel, is that the Ukrainians need the support from the West - the U.S., Canada, Europe. People here say it's very important not only materially but also psychologically in the face of what they call their very aggressive neighbor.

MARTIN: So you're Ukrainian. You've got 100,000 Russian troops on your border. Russia has already invaded once. Are people fearful? What are they telling you?

BEARDSLEY: Well, it's really interesting, Rachel. You know, people are aware of what's going on. You know, there are Ukrainian soldiers killed every week fighting these Russian separatists who are proxies in the east of the country. But, you know, they're used to this intense friction with Russia, and they're pretty stoic about it. Remember, this conflict's been grinding on for eight years. And in Kiev, the western capital, which is pretty far from the eastern front, it feels kind of like an open sore.

I spoke with one Kiev resident. His name is Artyom Klyuchnikov. He's the father of four. And he summed it up pretty well, I thought. He says people here suffer from what he called a kind of split personality. And he opened the newspaper to give me an example of that. Here he is.

ARTYOM KLYUCHNIKOV: In one article, like, I can read, OK, these are the bomb shelters. There's a map created where you can look up the nearest bomb shelter to you. And the next article will be, what are the Christmas festivities you can attend this weekend? So, I mean, these two worlds - they coexist together - this looming threat, which we believe is there - and sometimes it's very stressful when you read too much of that stuff. And at the same time, the life continues as if nothing is happening.

BEARDSLEY: And he told me, you know, maybe that's a good thing because it allows people to keep their sanity. And you know what?

MARTIN: Right.

BEARDSLEY: It's the Christmas season here. Orthodox Christmas was January 7. And I was out at Kiev's big Christmas market last week, where there were families and eating and drinking. And here's what it sounded like. The mood was festive.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Singing in Ukrainian).

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Speaking Ukrainian).

MARTIN: Wow. So I mean, they've got to compartmentalize, right? You have to be able to celebrate Christmas. All the while...


MARTIN: ...This looming threat is in the back of their mind. I mean, how likely do Ukrainians actually think an invasion is?

BEARDSLEY: Most people don't think that, you know, Russia's going to invade. What, and come all the way to Kiev? No, they don't think so. They think that Putin just wants to keep Ukraine mired in chaos and unstable. And I spoke with a retired Ukrainian general yesterday, and he told me that what Russia fears the most - it's not NATO Rachel - but it's a democratic and human rights-respecting Ukraine - because, he said, that would then force Putin to explain to his people why their so-called Slav brothers are living so much better than, you know, the Russians are, and without the natural resources to boot. So he said Putin wants to avoid that at all costs.

This being said, Rachel, people don't put anything past Putin. And there are actually military training activities for civilians here on the weekends in case there is an invasion. And I'm actually going to go to one on Saturday, and I'll be able to tell you more about that next week.

MARTIN: NPR's Eleanor Beardsley from Kiev - thank you.

BEARDSLEY: Thank you, Rachel.

(SOUNDBITE OF PENSEES' "KARINE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Eleanor Beardsley
Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.