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For the last month in Ukraine, Kharkiv has faced near-daily strikes from Russia


For the last month, Ukraine's second-largest city, Kharkiv, has faced near-daily strikes from Russia. The border is about 20 miles away. A change in U.S. policy could make it safer for now, but did the change come too late? NPR's Joanna Kakissis reports from Kharkiv.


JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: The day Russian bombs hit the home improvement center where Viktoria Kitsenko works, she was reviewing orders for wallpaper. She felt a hot blast. The roof caved in. She wiped blood off her face as she forced her way outside. In the parking lot, she saw the bodies of her coworkers and a thick, black plume of smoke rising over her hometown.

VIKTORIA KITSENKO: (Through interpreter) What's happening in Kharkiv now? It's just destruction - destruction of the city and destruction of Kharkiv's citizens. The Russians want our city - an empty city.

KAKISSIS: After nearly a month of escalating Russian attacks on Kharkiv, the White House said last week that it will allow Ukraine to fire some U.S.-provided weapons into Russia but only across the border from the Kharkiv region.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

KAKISSIS: In the Saltivka neighborhood, not far from the home improvement store that was hit, Svitlana Pozdnikina says she's waiting to see if it will make a difference.

SVITLANA POZDNIKINA: (Through interpreter) It's very bad here right now. A lot of people have left the neighborhood. Half the houses are empty. In my apartment building, it's only retirees who have run out of money and have nowhere to go.

KAKISSIS: Pozdnikina, who is 55 and works in a candy store, says her blue-collar neighborhood has long been in the line of fire. Russian forces pummeled Saltivka's high-rises, markets and parks as they tried to occupy Kharkiv at the beginning of the full-scale invasion in 2022, and they have struck it repeatedly after launching a new offensive in the Kharkiv region last month. Pozdnikina says that Western words of support have not seemed to have translated into protection from the bombs.

POZDNIKINA: (Through interpreter) The longer there's delay in weapons or action, the more the fighting seems to increase and the more missiles are launched at us. So we feel abandoned.

KAKISSIS: Another Saltivka resident, 31-year-old Tetiana Kovalenko, says the Russian strikes have not stopped since the U.S. allowed Ukraine to strike Russia with Western weapons.

TETIANA KOVALENKO: (Non-English language spoken).

KAKISSIS: "It's restless here - very restless," she says. "They hit us everywhere. We live on the 16th floor, so we can see what comes in and where it hits."

She's eight months pregnant. She says she and her family spend every night in the bomb shelter. Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, has brought up Kharkiv repeatedly when pleading with the U.S. and other allies to give Ukrainian troops more leverage in using Western weapons. In Singapore this weekend, Zelenskyy said he's seeking the use of long-range weapons like ATACMS to hit Russian military targets currently beyond their reach.


PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY: (Through interpreter) So they have these weapons there, and they do not remove them because they know that Ukraine cannot target them with Western weaponry, even if they fire against us.


KAKISSIS: Back in Saltivka, there's a memorial at what's left of the home improvement center. Nineteen people were killed here, including Viktoria Kitsenko's boss. Kitsenko says she was so shaken by the attack that she has now left Kharkiv. She's not sure she will return.

Joanna Kakissis, NPR News, Kharkiv. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Joanna Kakissis is a foreign correspondent based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she reports poignant stories of a conflict that has upended millions of lives, affected global energy and food supplies and pitted NATO against Russia.