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As a Russian-built bridge linked to Crimea blows up, Ukraine's offensive continues


A Russian bridge built to connect the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea to mainland Russia appears heavily damaged this weekend. Russian officials say the bridge is closed after a fire. But images shared on social media show a huge blast and a partial collapse. And today, Russian's air force chief was named commander of all troops fighting in Ukraine. in flames.

NPR's Jason Beaubien joins us now from southern Ukraine. Jason, thanks for being with us.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Hey. It's good to be with you.

SIMON: What do we know about the situation on the Crimea Bridge?

BEAUBIEN: Well, we know that there was a huge explosion just before dawn. Russian counterterrorism officials are saying it was a truck bomb, but they're not assigning blame yet for who detonated it. But here's the crucial thing - this was a pet project of Russian president Vladimir Putin. He had it built after Russia seized Crimea in 2014. You know, prior to the opening in 2018, there wasn't a bridge that went from Crimea to Russia, and it's been a symbol to Ukrainians of Russian occupation, Russian aggression. And this bridge has been a crucial supply line for Russian troops in their offensive operations in Ukraine.

SIMON: As we noted, Jason, you're in southern Ukraine, where troops are trying to take back Russian-occupied territory. Seems like there's been some success, but what are you seeing?

BEAUBIEN: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, this week, Ukrainian troops rapidly took back hundreds of square miles of territory in the Kherson region on the west bank of the Dnieper River. After that initial push, Russian forces, they appear to be putting up more resistance. But I was talking to some Ukrainian soldiers yesterday with an artillery crew that operates a howitzer. And they were saying that earlier in the fighting, Russians were acting like they had unlimited amounts of ammunition. These guys would fire, and then the Russians would respond with 40 or 50 shells. The Ukrainians now say that the Russians appear to be conserving their ammunition. And the soldiers that I was talking to out there on the front - they believe that this is because Ukraine has been effective in hitting the Russian supply lines.

SIMON: Tell us what Ukrainian forces you've been able to spend some time with are saying, how they're feeling.

BEAUBIEN: Yeah, look, you know, it's a war. It's difficult. Ukraine continues to take heavy losses, as do the Russians. There have been a lot of funerals. But overall, the Ukrainian troops that I've been talking to - they feel like they really have the momentum now in this fight. We're seeing images of Russians fleeing to avoid being drafted at the moment, but people here say, this is our land. We will fight to defend it. I'm hearing this not just from politicians and generals but also from, like, these infantry soldiers and from residents.

I was talking to two Ukrainian soldiers again yesterday. They're from a reconnaissance intelligence unit, so I can't identify them. But I was asking them what it's going to be like to be out there in the winter in these trenches. And they laughed, and they said they're not concerned about the snow.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Laughter, non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Through interpreter) For victory, we are ready to serve and to survive in winter, even in only underwear.

BEAUBIEN: Only in their underwear out there in the snow. And they point out that it's going to be even harder for the Russians who've been stuck on the other side of that frontline now for months.

SIMON: NPR's Jason Beaubien in southern Ukraine - Jason, thanks so much.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome. 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.

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