The Humanitarian Crisis In Ukraine | Crooked Media
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March 10, 2022
What A Day
The Humanitarian Crisis In Ukraine

In This Episode

  • A Russian airstrike destroyed a maternity hospital in the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol on Wednesday. This is the latest example of Russian forces hitting civilians and civilian infrastructure, with United Nations monitors reporting on Wednesday that over 500 civilians have been killed so far. Washington Post journalist Isabelle Khurshudyan, who is currently in Odessa, Ukraine, joins us to discuss the impossible choices that citizens face about leaving the country.
  • And in headlines: Conservative candidate Yoon Suk-yeol won South Korea’s presidential election, a new study found that historically redlined neighborhoods have higher levels of air pollution, and a 1915 shipwreck in Antarctica has been located.


Show Notes:



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Gideon Resnick: It’s Thursday, March 10th. I’m Gideon Resnick.


Priyanka Aribindi: I’m Priyanka Aribindi, and this is What A Day, the podcast that you can download for free over cellular data if you are on Stephen Miller’s parents’ family plan.


Gideon Resnick: Yes, Stephen Miller, we learned, is still on his parents’ family plan. And if you are as well, sorry, I guess.


Priyanka Aribindi: You know, I’ll keep your secret, but I am sorry.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah. On today’s show, Congress advanced a spending bill that helps Ukraine and quite a bit more. Plus, a 1915 shipwreck in Antarctica has been located.


Priyanka Aribindi: But first, the latest on the conflict in Ukraine as of around 9:30 p.m. Eastern as we go to record. Yesterday, a Russian airstrike destroyed a maternity hospital in the southern city of Mariupol. Gideon, What do we know about what happened?


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, we’re sort of figuring this out throughout the day. Ukrainian officials said at least 17 people were wounded in the strike. We still don’t know the latest number. The governor of the region that includes Mariupol said that those injured were mostly staff members and that no children were hurt. That’s according to The Washington Post. But still, some of the images that are coming out of all of this are really quite horrific. Doctors Without Borders said in a statement in part quote, “We are horrified to hear reports that a hospital complex, including a maternity ward in Mariupol, was struck in an attack today. While we can’t confirm that this was a targeted attack, we know from our staff that houses and hospitals have been damaged during the fighting over the past days.” And to that point, this strike is really the latest example of Russian forces hitting civilians and civilian infrastructure throughout the country. United Nations monitors said on Wednesday that over 500 civilians have been killed so far. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called the hospital strike an atrocity, and he wrote on Twitter that there were quote, “people and children under the wreckage.” There was also a report from the AP about a mass grave being filled in Mariupol, which a lot of people on the ground have been saying has seen some of the worst of this entire crisis. So, yeah, pretty harrowing stuff coming out of that city.


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, really horrifying. Meanwhile, cease fire talks are still ongoing. What was announced yesterday?


Gideon Resnick: Yes. So yesterday morning, authorities announced that thousands of civilians were able to leave bombarded towns around Kiev and also in other cities around the country, like Mariupol and Volnovakha. The Ukrainian deputy prime minister said Russia agreed to allow for the evacuation of civilians along six routes. But in the suburbs of Kiev, as people tried to escape, there were reported explosions that were heard in the capital, making their departure even more dangerous. The same happened in Izyum according to officials, another city that was set to be evacuated. So despite that agreement, some civilians were reportedly unable to leave Wednesday because of Russian shelling.


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. Ukrainian authorities have been raising concerns about potential war crimes. Is this due to those cease fire agreements?


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, it seems to be. It has to do with endangering the lives of these fleeing civilians that are caught in the shelling. Also, an Amnesty International investigation that came out yesterday found that a Russian airstrike on March 3rd in the city of Chernihiv killed 47 civilians. Amnesty reported that while some civilians were waiting for food and resources, at least eight bombs with no legitimate military target hit the area. Separately, the World Health Organization identified at least 18 attacks on health facilities and workers.


Priyanka Aribindi: Really just horrifying.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, and to get a better sense of what all is happening on the ground, I spoke yesterday to Washington Post journalist Isabelle Khurshudyan, she is currently in Odessa. That’s a port city connected to the Black Sea. And really, a lot of what we talked about was the sort of impossible choices that citizens face as they try to decide what to do amidst all of this. I started by asking her to describe what is going on around her.


Isabelle Khurshudyan: This is a city that has its roots in imperial Russia. It was created by Catherine the Great. So there’s a lot of historical cultural importance to this Russian world that Vladimir Putin envisions that are rooted in this city, but also a very strategic one for Ukraine and one that Russia is going to target. Because of that, they want to kind of cripple Ukraine economically by cutting it off from the sea, and this would be the last stand here.


Gideon Resnick: Wow. And how imminent is that in terms of what you’ve been seeing and hearing?


Isabelle Khurshudyan: You know, we do hear the sounds of war here in the sense that every night you’ll hear some explosions going off in the distance. And what that is is actually the air defense system here working. And it’s also a sign that the Russians are testing the air defenses here, so they’ll launch something in this direction, air defense will knock it down and that will obviously, it sounds a certain way. We thought an attack here would happen sooner but it seems like Russia’s military kind of moves have stalled all over Ukraine, and taking some of these cities are taking longer than they expected. So I think the common thinking is that they won’t launch an attack in Odessa until after their forces have taken Mykolayiv, which is where there is a fight right now. So I think once Mykolayiv falls or if it falls, then Odessa, it’s probably within a day at that point that there would kind of try to make their advance here.


Gideon Resnick: Wow. I want to shift gears for just a second to talk about something that is on-going in another city. We’re still getting the full details as we’re talking here, but there was this documented Russian strike on a hospital complex in Mariupol on Wednesday. What more have you or your colleagues heard about this so far?


Isabelle Khurshudyan: I mean, Mariupol is a city that has been under siege since this started, even before it started because it was already kind of in that Donbass region that had been at war with Russian-backed separatists for the past eight years. And that’s another port city that’s pretty important to Ukraine economically. And right now there is a serious humanitarian crisis going on there that people can’t get out, that    they’re encircled and they’re not able to get basic things like food, water, medical supplies, anything. There has been talks of humanitarian corridors and these peace talks of trying to evacuate people from Mariupol, but these corridors keep breaking down or there is shelling going on in the corridors or in the middle of them. And it is just a horrifying situation there that is now getting compounded by this latest strike that targeted a hospital. And we heard Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova say that Ukraine was using that maternity ward in the hospital as a place for its military positions. So I think that’s how they’re going to justify that strike.


Gideon Resnick: Wow.


Isabelle Khurshudyan: But I mean, from the images we’ve seen, there were definitely women, pregnant women who were in there, and I think there’s going to be quite a few casualties.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, it’s really horrific. And it had us thinking how much of an increased frequency has there been of late in civilian targets getting hit throughout the country?


Isabelle Khurshudyan: I think we expected this, unfortunately, to a degree that the more resistance Ukraine put up, the more of a fight they put up, the more Russians would get kind of impatient and be more indiscriminate with their shelling, with their kind of strikes. So I think we definitely have seen that in Kharkiv and suburban Kiev and in Mariupol. Kharkiv, we saw this starting to happen within days of the war starting that civilian areas were getting shelled with what we believe are cluster munitions.


Gideon Resnick: Wow.


Isabelle Khurshudyan: You know, the civilian areas were getting hit with these multiple-launch rocket systems that aren’t precision weapons. These are rocket launchers that, you know, just kind of spray the area. And, you know, a lot of civilians are getting hit because of that. Really horrible. I would say just it could get worse, even more so because there is a growing impatience. This war was unpopular in Russia to begin with. I don’t think Russians were in any way expecting this war, and there is going to be pressure on the Russian government to finish this up quickly. So I think it is going to lead to a lot more attacks on the population to leverage that.


Gideon Resnick: Wow, that’s really horrific to think about. I wanted to go back to something that you had mentioned before, and I was reading some of your reporting on the safe passages out of various cities and sort of how difficult that has been. What more can you tell us about that? And I suppose why is that not happening with ease, this ability to allow civilians to leave?


Isabelle Khurshudyan: Yeah, I mean, I think you just go back to these negotiations to begin with. You know, people who, I’m usually a Moscow correspondent and when you saw the kind of lists of people Russia sent out in their delegation, nobody really took this seriously, right? Like if they were really going into this as good faith negotiations, that’s not who they would send. These humanitarian corridors, as they’re called, were leading to Russia and Belarus, which is also ridiculous.


Gideon Resnick: Right.


Isabelle Khurshudyan: So I think we see this a lot with cease fires, unfortunately, or purported cease fires. You know, they fall apart very quickly. I think some are working now better than others. It seems like the humanitarian corridor out of Sumy in northeastern Ukraine worked a little bit better today, and people were able to get to Poltava. And in general, this isn’t like a full cease fire across the board. It’s only like, Oh, we’ll stop in certain areas. So, you know, people are scared. There’s a lot of disbelief in the population on the ground there that, Oh, this is a trap, if we use this moment to evacuate, like, are we sitting ducks, like going into the line of fire rather than like hunkering down?


Gideon Resnick: And when the option becomes sort of hunkering down, as you put it, you’re also talking about the fact that in those cases, it’s very difficult to have basic resources when given that choice. Can you talk a little bit more about that and sort of the crisis that that decision can lead to?


Isabelle Khurshudyan: Yeah, I know in Kharkiv, I remember talking to the mayor there a week ago, maybe, and he was saying that the shelling was so consistent and so bad that their first priority was trying to get to people and get food, water, you know, even just trying to restore power in some of those spots because a lot of transformers have been hit. And you know, we’re talking about, it’s very cold here right now. I mean, I’m in the south of Ukraine, and it was snowing here today. And they couldn’t do it because the shelling was so consistent that they were not even able to get there. And that’s within the city. I mean, we’re talking about like a 15-minute drive.


Gideon Resnick: Wow.


Isabelle Khurshudyan: People were hiding in the metro stations. I remember talking to someone on the first day of the invasion who was hiding in the metro platform along with hundreds and hundreds of other people. And it was like, Oh, I’m hoping I can go home tonight, that they’ll just be an announcement that this is all over, that we’ve won. And, you know, it’s two weeks later, and I think the situation has, if anything, gotten much, much worse. And so it’s hard for people to, in some places, they can’t get out of the bunker, that it’s literally unsafe to leave, you know, an underground shelter. But how long can you stay there when supplies start to get dire?


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, it’s unfathomable, really. You also wrote this story about older citizens who for a lot of different reasons, may not have the ability to leave. Can you talk a little bit more about that reporting and how it may or may not line up with some of the other points you were just making?


Isabelle Khurshudyan: Where I’m at in Odessa, it’s like one of the few places in Ukraine where if you wanted to evacuate, you had two weeks to safely do so. I mean, you could still do so. And that is a very unique luxury for a city that I think we thought would be under attack right away. In any of these cases, I always wonder, like, why didn’t people just leave, right? And the elderly I met here, you know, one woman I met is blind. I mean, how is she going to possibly evacuate on a train or one of these exit routes? You know another man, his wife can’t really walk anymore. How are they going to do it? And what will they do when you get to like one of these like refugee camps on the other side of the border? So I think it is much more complicated choice for people than you even imagine. And then of course, on top of that, men 18 to 60 can’t leave. So you see a lot of women and children evacuating, but in some cases, like, you know, their main provider has to stay behind, and that’s incredibly challenging, too. When you talk about leaving behind your entire life and starting over with next to nothing


Gideon Resnick: Priyanka, that is my chat with Washington Post journalist Isabelle Khurshudyan. And we are going to include some links to her recent work and how you can help in our show notes. We’ll keep you updated as things progress in Ukraine, but that is latest for now. We are going to be back after some ads.


[ad break]


Gideon Resnick:  Let’s wrap up with some headlines.


[sung] Headlines.


Gideon Resnick: The House managed to pass a spending bill to fund the federal government and avoid another government shutdown ahead of their deadline this Friday at midnight, though the Senate still has to vote. After months of negotiations, the details of the $1.5 trillion package were released yesterday morning. Notably, it includes $13.6 billion in aid to Ukraine, and it reauthorizes the Violence Against Women Act, which expired in 2019. But one thing it will not cover is COVID-19 relief funds. The bill did include $15.6 billion for COVID relief initially, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said yesterday that those funds would be stripped out following disputes between Democrats over how to cover the costs. So under the original formulation, COVID would be offset using unspent funds from last year’s American Rescue Plan, but Democrats from 30 states with unspent funds didn’t like this plan. And on the other side, Republicans didn’t want to allocate new money.


Priyanka Aribindi: What are you going to do?


Gideon Resnick: What are you going to do? After COVID aid was cut from the spending bill, House Democrats introduced a standalone $15.6 billion COVID relief bill, but that is not expected to go very far against Senate Republicans and the filibuster.


Priyanka Aribindi: Just once I’d like love to hear of a bill that was presented—


Gideon Resnick: Easy.


Priyanka Aribindi: —less than like five minutes before they needed to vote on it to keep the government open. I feel like that would be a cool change of pace for this whole story.


Gideon Resnick: We can dream. We can dream.


Priyanka Aribindi: Conservative candidate Yoon Suk-yeol won South Korea’s presidential election yesterday after edging out his liberal opponent, Lee Jae-myng. Yoon won by less than 1% of the vote on Wednesday, and the neck-and-neck race marks the most contested presidential election in the country’s democratic history. Yoon’s win shifts power back to the conservative People Power Party after years of left-leaning leadership under current President Moon Jae-in. Yoon, who was formerly South Korea’s top prosecutor, is known for helping to convict former President Park Geun-hye during her impeachment trial. During his campaign, the president-elect notably ran on a platform of hardening South Korea’s stance on North Korea when it comes to potential nuclear threats. Yoon’s term, which lasts for five years, begins in May, and he faces a slew of crises, including rising income inequality, steep housing prices, and slowing economic growth as the pandemic continues.


Gideon Resnick: Here is another reason to hate cars as well as dead racists: a new study found that neighborhoods that were redlined by federal officials during the Great Depression have higher levels of bad air pollution today. That is more evidence that the process of redlining, by which the federal government systematically devalued homes in majority Black and immigrant communities, has affected the health of people living in those areas for generations. The researchers, who are all climate scientists, found that many historically red-line neighborhoods are closer to highways, bringing in traffic and industrial pollution and causing an increased incidence of asthma among children in those areas. The study also found that residents of these formerly red-lined areas breathe in twice as much nitrogen dioxide compared to their neighbors in more well-off communities. Dr. Joshua Apte, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at UC Berkeley who worked on this study, said quote, “this history of racist planning is so deeply ingrained in American cities, basically of any stripe, anywhere.”


Priyanka Aribindi: So unfortunate and so true.


Gideon Resnick: Mmm hm.


Priyanka Aribindi: The only large boat that we can say with complete confidence isn’t owned by a Russian oligarch, The Endurance, was located off the coast of Antarctica, where it sank in 1915—and that is the only reason we can say that.


Gideon Resnick: Yep.


Priyanka Aribindi: Led by Sir Ernest Shackleton, the explorer whose industry was famously killed by Millennials, The Endurance is one of the most famous shipwrecks. It was crushed by ice in what Shackleton described as, quote, “the worst portion of the worst sea in the world.” But its crew of 27 managed to survive by camping out on ice for nearly two months.


Gideon Resnick: Whoa!


Priyanka Aribindi: Which I must know more about.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah.


Priyanka Aribindi: I’m incredibly curious. Locating this ship was extremely difficult given the conditions, but a team of 65 managed to do it using drones, submarines, helicopters and robots, all of which Sir Shackleton what have described as “devil machines.” For a ship that spent the last hundred years in a salt water bath, The Endurance is looking pretty good. The ship’s name is still visible on the hull. Anyways, we hope this tale inspires at least one listener of WAD to become an explorer. Just be mindful of getting you boat crushed by ice.


Gideon Resnick: That could happen, or you could wait it out and explore in 50 years when there is no more ice left.


Priyanka Aribindi: Jeez. I was going to say like you could use Stephen Miller’s family plan. You can listen to WAD while you’re exploring. He probably has great roaming options. But yeah, no, maybe you can wait as well. I’m sure we’ll still be around.


Gideon Resnick: That is very true. You can keep listening in our iceless sea on the good data plan. Just merging the glass half full and glass empty there I think.


Priyanka Aribindi: Love that for us.


Gideon Resnick: Yes, those are the headlines. That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, find a boat, preferably old, and tell your friends to listen.


Priyanka Aribindi: And if you’re into reading, and not just the tales of conquest by Sir Ernest Shackleton like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at I’m Priyanka Aribindi.


Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.


[together] And stop procrastinating, Congress.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, come on.


Priyanka Aribindi: Stop procrastinating. Why do you do this?


Gideon Resnick: Beat a deadline, for once. See what it feels like. Maybe you like it. You never know.


Priyanka Aribindi: You’re not setting a good example for the kids. Everyone is just going to look at this and be like, Well, I can do everything last minute too.


Gideon Resnick: This is the only part of Congress that’s a bad example for children. No other parts are bad examples.


Priyanka Aribindi: Everything else is great.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah. What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzi Marine and Raven Yamamoto are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran and me, Gideon Resnick. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.