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Amid Ukraine's Faltering Hopes For Peace, Biden Speaks In Kiev


Vice President Joe Biden warned Russia today that it must join in efforts to reduce tensions in Ukraine. Biden was in Ukraine's capital, Kiev, and it looks like last week's international agreement to disarm militant groups in that country is failing. Ukrainian president says the security service will resume an anti-terrorist operation following the discovery of two bodies in eastern Ukraine. The operation had been suspended after the agreement in Geneva.

NPR's Eleanor Beardsley joins us from Donetsk.

And, Eleanor, what is the impact of Biden's visit to Ukraine?

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Well, people in Kiev, the capital, the Western-looking capital, are very happy. They value their friendship with America. People are counting on the West's help as Russia bears down on them. But in the east, it's a different story, Audie. They don't understand why the U.S. is involved in Ukrainian internal politics. Many people already believe that the U.S. was behind the Maidan uprising that overthrew the pro-Russia president in February. And a man said to me today we're just a pawn in the geopolitical battle between Russia and the West. So they don't really care about the visit here in the east.

But the big news today here, Audie, is that two tortured bodies were found in this separatist-occupied town of Slavyansk and one of them was a politician from the president's party. So the president, the government has said they are re-launching an antiterrorist operation that is trying to route out these occupiers of buildings. They had suspended for the Easter holiday but now they've re-launched that again. People said it wasn't very successful but it's certainly going to raise tensions here.

CORNISH: Now, only last week, it seemed that Secretary of State John Kerry and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had reached an agreement that promised a peaceful end to the Ukrainian crisis. Is that now being implemented?

BEARDSLEY: Audie, it's not being implemented. And when you're on the ground here you realize that it's entirely unrealistic and it could have never happened. I think it's almost like they set themselves up for failure. First of all, look at Kiev. Maidan Square is now its own firmly entrenched camp. It's been there are, what, five months? And the people there don't entirely trust the government. They say they're staying until presidential elections are held.

In the east, you have buildings occupied. The people here are not about to step back and they say they're staying until a referendum is held on their future. They say they don't necessarily want to be a part of Russia, but they do not want to be under the thumb of this government a Kiev, which they call a bandit government full of fascists. They think it's completely illegal.

So I think both camps will stay in the east and the west. The stakes and tensions will rise and it will keep Ukraine in a state of turmoil. And analysts say that's exactly what Russia wants because that's going to ruin any chance of holding a successful presidential election in May.

CORNISH: Meanwhile, what's the atmosphere like in the towns and villages that you've been visiting in eastern Ukraine?

BEARDSLEY: You know, it's kind of spooky. You never really know who's in charge. But some of the places are really well-organized, almost militaristic. And surprisingly, those are the places you feel safe because there's a degree of professionalism. But today, we are in a small town with some just young hoodlums patrolling the government building. They were blasting Russian rap music, drinking. And they were very menacing and it was very uneasy feeling. So it's you never know what you're going to run into. And there's always a feeling of who is in control here. You don't know.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Ukraine. Eleanor, thank you.

BEARDSLEY: Thank you, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.