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The real world impact of Russia's annexation of Ukrainian regions

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Russian President Vladimir Putin today formally made four regions of Ukraine that are currently occupied by his troops territories of the Russian Federation. The West swiftly and widely condemned the move. President Biden reiterated the U.S.'s support for Ukraine and had this to say about Putin.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: He can't seize his neighbor's territory and get away with it - simple as that.

CHANG: NPR's Jason Beaubien is in Mykolaiv, Ukraine. That's a city very close to one of the regions that was subsumed by Russia today. Hi, Jason.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: OK. So how is this announcement being received in Ukraine so far?

BEAUBIEN: You know, it was clear that this was coming. So people really expected this. It's the same playbook that Putin used in 2014, after he invaded Crimea. He then held a referendum that he declared that Crimea is part of Russia because that's what Crimea supposedly wants. One official here just shrugged when I asked him about this today. He said, you know, we're still at war. Ukraine still has no other option than to win.

CHANG: Well, what about President Volodymyr Zelenskyy? Like, what's been his response to this declaration by Russia that they're annexing - what? - roughly 15% of Ukrainian land?

BEAUBIEN: Yeah. Well, Zelenskyy's people say that he didn't even watch the rambling speech in which Putin framed this invasion as Russia somehow being under attack by the U.S., NATO and Western elites. Zelenskyy did, however, immediately after the speech announce that Ukraine is submitting an expedited application to join NATO, just like Sweden and Finland did earlier this year. And part of what's crazy here is that this is one of the main reasons Putin cited initially as his reason for invading Ukraine was to stop NATO from expanding. In a video speech on his Telegram channel announcing this application for NATO membership, Zelenskyy denounced the theft of Ukrainian territory. He accused Russia of redrawing international borders with murder and blackmail. And Zelenskyy went on to say that Ukraine is willing to enter negotiations with Russia, but not with Putin. Putin, in his address, said he's ready to negotiate with Ukraine, but not about the four territories he just annexed, saying that those will be part of Russia forever.

CHANG: Well, can I ask, like, what is the real-world impact of these so-called annexations by Russia? Like, what kind of difference will this make to people's lives there day to day?

BEAUBIEN: So, you know, I talked to this guy today who had just arrived to Mykolaiv yesterday after fleeing out of Kherson. And Kherson is one of the Russian-occupied regions that was just officially annexed. And this man said that this really matters, that for him, he saw this coming. He was in Crimea when Russia annexed Crimea. And he decided that he had to get out of Kherson. He walked for 20 days, he said, crossing through 15 to 17 Russian checkpoints - he couldn't remember exactly how many.

But he believed that if he stayed and Kherson became part of Russia, he would get drafted into the Russian army and be forced to fight against his fellow Ukrainians. And this was something he desperately wanted to try to avoid. The other key way that this annexation changes things is that now President Putin is likely to claim that any Ukrainian counteroffensive to try to reclaim these regions is an attack on Mother Russia. Putin again today - he warned that that would be met with the full force of Russia's military, which we all know includes nuclear weapons.

CHANG: That is correct. That is NPR's Jason Beaubien talking to us from the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv. Thank you so much, Jason.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jason Beaubien is NPR's Global Health and Development Correspondent on the Science Desk.