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A look at Ukraine, 6 months into its war with Russia

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

It's been nearly six months since Russia invaded Ukraine. The war shows no sign of ending. In fact, there are growing fears of an accident at a nuclear power station captured by Russian forces. And fighting continues in the east and in the south as Ukraine tries to retake areas under Russian control. But there have also been breakthroughs including a safe passage deal that allows ships loaded with Ukrainian grain to leave Black Sea ports. NPR's Joanna Kakissis has just left Ukraine and joins us now from Krakow, Poland. Joanna, thanks so much for being with us.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Thanks for having me, Scott.

SIMON: Let's begin with questions about the latest at the nuclear power plant, which is the largest in Europe, as I understand. What's the situation there now that concern so many people around the world?

KAKISSIS: Russia has occupied the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station in southern Ukraine since March and has troops and military equipment there. But in recent days, Russian forces have fired rockets and missiles from around the plant's territory, and the Ukrainians have, in the past, fired back. So that has raised fears that a missile could hit the plant and cause an accident there and, you know, release radiation. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres came to Ukraine on Thursday and Friday and said, look, this fighting has to stop. It's suicide. And it now appears that the Russians could allow independent inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to at least visit the plant.

SIMON: And the secretary-general was also in Odesa yesterday, that major port and historic city. What was he doing there?

KAKISSIS: So Antonio Guterres had spent months trying to broker a deal to reopen Black Sea ports that had been closed since the beginning of the war in February. And he did it with the help of Turkey, who worked with the Russians. And now, Ukrainian agricultural products, mainly grain, can finally be exported by sea along with some Russian food products. This supply is supposed to help global food shortages. Guterres called this deal a victory for diplomacy and was in Odesa, basically, to see how the shipments are working. So far, a couple of dozen ships have left, and many more are waiting to leave.

SIMON: Joanna, you spent a lot of time in Odesa, of course, taking a look at the grain deal and shipments. But what an extraordinary city. How has the war transformed it?

KAKISSIS: So Odesa has long been known as a rebellious crossroads of art, commerce and diversity. It has suffered because the war has knocked out two of its main industries - shipping and tourism. And the war itself isn't very far away from Odesa. The Ukrainians are trying to retake the region of Kherson just to the east. Odesa is also a city that Vladimir Putin has long coveted because of its history and its strategic location on the Black Sea. But the war has done very little to tame the rebels of Odesa. For example, the beaches are off-limits this year. Some have been mined because of fears of a Russian invasion from the sea.

(SOUNDBITE OF WAVES)

KAKISSIS: At one of the beaches, I met these two grandmothers, Anya and Galina, and the police were threatening to fine them for swimming. And, you know, the women, they did not care at all.

ANYA: (Non-English language spoken).

KAKISSIS: (Laughter).

GALINA: (Non-English language spoken).

KAKISSIS: So Anya is saying, "we just play hide-and-seek with the authorities." And Galina, she's 90 years old. Well, she told the police, I am a mermaid from Odesa, and neither you nor the mines nor the Russians are going to keep me from swimming in my sea.

SIMON: NPR's Joanna Kakissis, thanks so much.

KAKISSIS: Thanks so much, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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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.