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Residents Fear Fighting In Ukraine Will Move To Kharkiv


A cease-fire has brought down the level of fighting in Ukraine, which is not to say the fighting has stopped. Separatists and their Russian allies did say today that they will begin moving heavy artillery back from front lines. But one has just to visit one city a few miles from the Russian border to find signs that the war and Russia's hold on territory could expand. The city is Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest. Journalist Linda Kinstler was just there. Good morning.

LINDA KINSTLER: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Kharkiv is, as I've just said, the second-largest city in Ukraine. You visited it and wrote this piece for Foreign Policy Magazine. Why there? Why go there?

KINSTLER: Kharkiv is historically a home to the Ukrainian intelligentsia, but it's also a very divided city. And what you have essentially is a population that's divided virtually 50-50 between people who sympathize with the Russian side of the Ukrainian conflict and with the Ukrainian side. And so ever since the protests erupted last February, Kharkiv has been a especially tense city. And given its proximity both to the Russian border and to the separatist-held territories in Luhansk, it's an especially critical area for the Ukrainian government to control right now.

MONTAGNE: There have been marches in support of the separatists. You write about that. And just two days ago, a bomb went off in the middle of one of those marches. And up until this past Sunday, during these attacks, no one was killed. And then this past Sunday, two people die. What has the violence been like? How has it broken down over these last few months? [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: We incorrectly state that a bomb exploded two days ago at a march held by supporters of separation from Ukraine. In fact, the bomb exploded at a march held by supporters of a unified Ukraine.]

KINSTLER: Well, what you're seeing is a variety of what people in Kharkiv call terrorist acts. There are often bombs that are left somewhere in the city, often places where volunteers, activists gather to distribute supplies for the army. And these bombs go off. And it's been relatively constant for the past several months. So people have learned to be on edge.

MONTAGNE: Now, and you write about a statue of Lenin that had been torn down in yet another march that symbolized a patriotic moment in Soviet history. So I take it that it's just a daily back-and-forth between the Russian supporters and those who want it more loyal to Ukraine?

KINSTLER: Yes, and, you know, they're trying to find a way to live together. And the city is at this moment of kind of crisis and trying to figure out what its identity is. The Lenin statue is a perfect symbol of that because it was torn down in September, but the pedestal and one boot remains. And so it's now called the Boot Memorial. And there's a sign that says, excuse the construction, citizens of Kharkiv, when really there's no construction going on because the city does not know what to do with it. They don't know whether to keep it, to rebuild it, to remove it, etc.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

KINSTLER: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Reporter Linda Kinstler wrote about her trip to Kharkiv for Foreign Policy Magazine. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: February 23, 2015 at 11:00 PM CST
In this story, we incorrectly state that a bomb exploded two days ago at a march held by supporters of separation from Ukraine. In fact, the bomb exploded at a march held by supporters of a unified Ukraine.