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Kyiv mayor shares his view from Ukraine's capital

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

We begin this hour of the program in Kyiv. For more than five weeks now, Russian forces have been pushing toward the capital of Ukraine. There are reports that push at the moment is faltering. We are joined now by the mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, and he joins us now via Skype. Mr. Mayor, thanks so much for being with us.

VITALI KLITSCHKO: My pleasure.

SIMON: What do you know about Russian forces on the outskirts of Kyiv? What's happening?

KLITSCHKO: I just came from satellite city of Kyiv. I saw the whole infrastructure is destroyed 'cause the buildings - it's actually city of Irpin, Bucha, Hostomel - these cities doesn't exist anymore. Whole buildings, schools - everything is total destroyed. And right now, we collect the dead people. We don't know the numbers, but this will be hundreds, maybe thousands. It's horrible. It's actually very depressive images to see that. It's not secret that Kyiv was always target from Russians and - right - they right now told they go away. I actually don't believe Russians. The Russians told this special operation just against Ukrainian army. I just came in right now from north of the city. I saw the old people shoot civilian, civilian. Old, young people, womans (ph) shoot by Russian soldier, and the bodies everywhere there.

SIMON: Mayor Klitschko, you're aware Kyiv is ordinarily a city of about 3 million people - the size of Chicago, in fact. Can you tell how many people have left? What's life in the city like now?

KLITSCHKO: Kyiv is the largest city in East Europe. Right now, we guess is the half of population right now already left is womans, childrens - we move to west of Ukraine, much more safety parts of the country and some who temporarily move to outside of the country. Cities changed totally. It's always springtime. This city have energy. So many people enjoys this spring sunshine. And right now, they just block us - the people with weapons. It's a city almost died.

SIMON: Yeah. Do you want people to return, or is it still unsafe? What do you think about the future?

KLITSCHKO: To be honest, I talked to many experts in the world, and nobody can predict how the situation will be developed. Everybody is hopeful for a diplomatic solution. But Russians talked about solution, about compromise. It's difficult to say which compromise we have to find in this - in current situation. We can talk about compromise or solution if Russian soldiers go away from our territory, from our country. Right now, the people want to come back to Kyiv, but it's still dangerous to be in Kyiv because any seconds, any buildings, any citizens of our cities can be target. That way, right now, we can say, when is the war is finished? Right now in Kyiv, little bit quiet couple of days before, but people still nervous.

SIMON: What does the city need from the rest of the world? What would you like?

KLITSCHKO: I explain you some very interesting story. Just a couple of weeks ago, the rockets landed in apartment building. The building destroyed. I immediately come to this place with fireman to give the help to the people. One man come to me - I guess little bit more than 60 years old - and give me a question. Mr. Mayor, what I have to doing? I'm homeless right now because there's a huge hole in the building. And I give him proposals to - I will wave him to the west of Ukraine. I was very surprised. The answer was, Mr. Mayor, all my life I live in my hometown, in Kyiv. All my friends, all relatives live here. I don't want to leave. I want to ask you, Mr. Mayor - please give me the weapons. I want to defend my city because the reason of this war - Putin want to rebuild Russia empire or Soviet Union. We was in the USSR, and we definitely don't want back to USSR. And everyone, everyone ready to defend the children and future of our families.

SIMON: Mayor Vitali Klitschko of Kyiv, thanks so much for being with us, sir.

KLITSCHKO: You're welcome. And one message - thank you so much for the support of our country from the United States. It's very important for us. We ready to fight. But please, everyone have to understand, we defend not just our country. We defend not just our families. We defend the same values and principles. And if someone think the war far away, is a wrong opinion. This war can touch anyone in European country, of anyone in the world. Thank you for everyone.

SIMON: Mayor Vitali Klitschko of Kyiv, thank you, sir.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: April 2, 2022 at 11:00 PM CDT
The guest incorrectly calls Kyiv the largest city in Eastern Europe.
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.