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How Russian forces lost control of the Ukrainian railway hub of Lyman

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Russia is losing territory in Ukraine almost as quickly as it pretends to annex it. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy now says that a railway hub is back in his country's control. Lyman is in a region that Russia claimed for itself after a much-discredited referendum. NPR's Jason Beaubien is covering various Ukrainian advances in southern Ukraine. Hey there, Jason.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.

INSKEEP: And of the various moves to talk about, let's talk about Lyman. How significant is the seizure of this relatively small city?

BEAUBIEN: You know, this is really important logistically. Lyman - it's part of the Donetsk region, it's near Kharkiv, and it's a railway hub that Russian forces had been using to resupply their troops further south in the Donbas. It's also important as a morale boost. Lyman is part of this area that, as you've mentioned, Russian President Vladimir Putin just announced on Friday he's making part of the Russian Federation forever. It's worth pointing out that there were significant parts of both the Donetsk region and the Zaporizhzhia oblast that Putin claimed to have annexed that were never even under Russian control during this war. You know, and finally, grabbing Lyman will potentially give Ukrainian forces momentum and a base to push even further west towards the Russian border. But we'll have to see on that.

INSKEEP: OK. So we've talked about this on the program. There've been two Ukrainian offensives - one in the east, one toward the south. We've just been talking about the east. You are in the south. What is happening there?

BEAUBIEN: Yes. So I'm in Mykolaiv, which is right next to the Kherson region, which is another one of the regions that Russia now claims to have just absorbed into the Russian Federation. And Kherson is an area where Ukrainian troops have been trying to push back Russian forces. And they've had some success, but it's been nothing like that sweeping counteroffensive that we saw in the northeast near Kharkiv. The terrain here - it's much more open. It's fields. The Russians are fairly well dug in. But over the last couple of weeks, Ukrainian forces have moved the front line back from where I am here in Mykolaiv. It used to be about 10 miles from the outskirts of the city. Now it's about 20 miles to the east.

INSKEEP: What is it like where you are behind the Ukrainian lines?

BEAUBIEN: You know, this city continues to get hit with missiles every day - mainly it's at night. In recent days, we've also started to see attacks from suicide drones that Russia has gotten from Iran. The drone attacks are relatively new, and they're much harder for the Ukrainian air defense systems to shoot down. People are getting killed also by conventional missiles. Just the other day, a cluster bomb hit the middle of a major street here. I was talking to Vitali Kim. He's the regional military administrator for Mykolaiv. And he says residents are getting used to what's like this new normal because they have no other option.

VITALI KIM: The war is going, people are dying and lots of destroyed buildings and lots of problems with economics, etc. So I don't know how to command it. We do not have a choice. We're trying to live our common life in such difficult circumstances.

BEAUBIEN: He says that roughly half the city's population has fled to safer - other areas. But he notes that not everyone can flee. And he says the only choice most Ukrainians have is to try to fight back and free the territory that is now under Russian control.

INSKEEP: Jason, you said cluster bomb - that sends projectiles in all areas, that is to kill people. That is the objective of that, is a maximum death. Is that right?

BEAUBIEN: Absolutely. And right in the middle of a urban street here.

INSKEEP: Jason, thanks.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: NPR's Jason Beaubien. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Jason Beaubien is NPR's Global Health and Development Correspondent on the Science Desk.