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Russian Military Vehicles Reportedly Move Into Ukraine


Ukraine says its artillery has destroyed a number of Russian military vehicles. Ukraine says those vehicles crossed into its territory overnight. NATO says the same. But Russia denies any of its forces crossed into Ukraine. Meanwhile, a controversial convoy that the Russians say is carrying humanitarian aid has been halted on the Russian side of the same border. And there have been other attempts to get help to the tens of thousands of people trapped by fighting between government forces and separatist militias in eastern Ukraine. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in the rebel-held city of Donetsk, and she joins us now. And Soraya, first, what can you tell us about the military action last night?

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Well, this certainly caused a lot of brouhaha here today. The Ukrainian president insisted that they had destroyed most of this military column that had moved across. Russia says that's impossible because they didn't send anyone. However, two Western journalists from The Guardian and Daily Telegraph said they did see armored personnel carriers with Russian military license plates cross the border that you mentioned. And also the NATO's secretary general confirms that they had observed what he described as a military - a Russian military incursion.

BLOCK: And that's the - those are the vehicles that the Ukrainians now say they have taken out. Separately, there are these aid convoys, both Russian and Ukrainian, trying to reach people trapped by the fighting. What's happened there?

NELSON: Well, the latest we hear is that the Russians have come to some sort of tentative agreement with the Red Cross about having, I guess, a Red Cross person sitting in the vehicle, having a Russian driver and no military escort in order for this convoy to be able to cross into Ukraine. On the other hand though, reporters on that side of the border are saying that there still are Russian military vehicles that have peacekeeping mission written on them that are getting ready - or look like they're ready to move with the convoy. So we've had a lot of stops and starts before, so it's really unclear whether that will happen tomorrow as is being discussed. In the meantime though, on the Ukrainian side, I certainly saw a lot of aid convoys moving here today. At one a.m. this morning local time, I was out with Ukrainian members of the - rescue services, I guess, would be the best way to describe it. They were stocking a bunch of this aid that had just arrived from Kharkiv in a warehouse. And then later in the day I saw some of the aid being distributed. So it does seem that some of this aid or some aid is getting to these people who are living in this region that is very much under seige and very much in need.

BLOCK: And Soraya, is that aid actually getting to people who are in need - who have been trapped by the fighting?

NELSON: Well, I actually did see some aid being handed out today in the city or town of Lysychansk, which was a place that was retaken by Ukrainian forces from the rebels in late July. And there were about, I would say a hundred or so people just jostling to try and get at this cabbage, potatoes, onions and large jugs of water that were being handed out today.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).

NELSON: There you hear a Ukrainian soldier who is shouting at dozens of people to stop shoving and form a single line, but nobody seems to listen and they're jostling for these wares. They were filling plastic bags and running off with the stuff.

BLOCK: Well, Soraya, right now you are in Donetsk. It's a city that's being held by the separatists who are under attack by Ukrainian government. Is there ongoing shelling now? What did you see when you crossed the front lines of this fighting?

NELSON: Well, today's fighting seemed to be concentrated more around Luhansk. I did actually see what looked like very small missiles - little rocket-type things that were being fired from the Ukrainian side - from this town of Shastia (ph) which is supposed to be within this humanitarian corridor. And coming all the way to Donetsk, it's very quiet, actually in the city tonight which is a stark contrast to last night where there was a lot of shelling and - in fact, between two and four people were killed depending on who you ask and several injured.

BLOCK: That's NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson. She's in the rebel-held city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine. Soraya, thank you.

NELSON: You're welcome, Melissa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.