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The Russian army appears close to taking the entire Donbas region

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

In a speech today, Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country has not even begun to fight in Ukraine, and he challenged the West to try to defeat Russia on the battlefield. Meanwhile, the Russian army appears close to taking the entire Donbas region in Ukraine's east. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: The Donetsk city of Sloviansk is now on Russia's path as it seeks to conquer the Donbas. NPR reached Sloviansk Mayor Vadym Liakh on the phone.

VADYM LIAKH: (Through interpreter) There are constant shellings, missiles and artillery. Our citizens have been killed and wounded. This war of attrition is exhausting, and I think whoever holds out longer will be the winner.

BEARDSLEY: NPR visited Sloviansk in 2014, when it was briefly occupied by separatist forces, before Ukraine got it back. In February of this year, NPR visited Mayor Liakh in his town hall. He expressed pride in his city's Ukrainian spirit.

LIAKH: (Non-English language spoken).

BEARDSLEY: With Russian forces now bearing down on his city, Liakh says he's just trying to get people out. Katarzyna Zysk, a specialist on the Russian military who teaches at the Norwegian University Defence College (ph), says Russian President Vladimir Putin was pleased when his troops finally took Luhansk. But now he wants all of the Donbas.

KATARZYNA ZYSK: Of course, taking the whole Donbas would be even better to present this war effort and explain the Russian public that this all was worth it and, indeed, that the Russian army has some tangible victory. But I do not think that this will be an end to the Russian offensive.

BEARDSLEY: She says Putin's objective is subjugating all of Ukraine. The West is providing arms to keep that from happening. But a soldier NPR met on a break from fighting in the Donbas says aid is not coming fast enough. He gives his nom de guerre, Badger (ph), and an anecdote.

BADGER: (Through interpreter) Recently we had a task to save some of our soldiers, but we couldn't get to them because we were under a heavy shelling. And on the radio, you could hear calls for artillery to back us up. And artillery answered, we can't help you. We have no more shells.

BEARDSLEY: That may be changing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY: (Speaking Ukrainian).

BEARDSLEY: In his nightly address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the effects of allies' powerful new precision weapons are being seen on the front for the first time.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ZELENSKYY: (Speaking Ukrainian).

BEARDSLEY: "Our defenders are inflicting noticeable blows on warehouses and other critical logistics points of the occupiers," he said. Despite the huge toll the war is taking on Russia militarily, economically and politically, says Zysk, Putin will continue because Ukraine is just a piece of his overall plan.

ZYSK: Russia wants to have a new European security architecture, but also, they have ambitions in the broader international order. If I would simplify, I would say they would like to revert to the 19th century. It's basically a concept of a new concept of great powers.

BEARDSLEY: A kind of big boys club, says Zysk, where countries like Ukraine, the Baltic nations or even Poland wouldn't necessarily have full sovereignty or control their destinies. Such a vision is completely unacceptable to the West, she says. But she doesn't believe Putin will stop until somebody stops him. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Dnipro, Ukraine. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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.