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Ukraine approaches another winter of war with U.S. funding stuck in Congress

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Ukraine is facing a crisis over billions in military and economic aid from its most important backers, the United States and the European Union. Europeans are divided, the U.S. Congress is frozen, and the White House says Russia will win this war without more funding.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Bad timing. Ukraine's counteroffensive has stalled, and Russian forces are advancing.

MARTIN: NPR's Ukraine correspondent Joanna Kakissis is with us from Kyiv to tell us more about all this. Hello, Joanna.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Hello, Michel.

MARTIN: So why is aid to Ukraine up in the air right now?

KAKISSIS: So, Michel, let's start with the United States, which has been, perhaps, Ukraine's biggest global champion. U.S. aid to Ukraine is set to run out at the end of this year, and now it looks unlikely that Congress will approve new aid before then. Republicans say they won't approve a spending bill that includes $61 billion for Ukraine unless there's money for a border wall with Mexico. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was supposed to speak via video link to the Senate, but he canceled at the last minute. Zelenskyy's chief of staff, though, is in D.C., and Ukraine's foreign minister insists that the Ukrainians are lobbying everyone to make sure the funding comes through.

MARTIN: And what about the European Union, Ukraine's other major supporter? And they're closer to the action, frankly.

KAKISSIS: That's right. Well, it turns out that the leaders of the European Union are also divided. They're supposed to meet next week to discuss a budget that includes the equivalent of about $54 billion in military and economic aid to Ukraine. And they're also set to decide whether to open membership talks with Ukraine. But any decisions, Michel, require the approval of all 27 member states. And right now, the prime minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, he says he opposes more aid to Ukraine, as well as opening EU membership talks. Orban is close to the Kremlin, as is another EU leader, the prime minister of Slovakia.

I spoke with a Ukrainian journalist and soldier, Pavlo Kazarin, about this, and he told me that all this uncertainty only helps Russia.

PAVLO KAZARIN: (Non-English language spoken).

KAKISSIS: He's saying, if what we're talking about here is decreasing or stopping aid or the supply of weapons, of course this means that Ukraine will lose more territory.

MARTIN: So, Joanna, tell us more about what's happening on the battlefield now.

KAKISSIS: Yeah. Well, even as winter sets in, parts of the front line are on fire. For the last couple of months, Russian forces have been pushing hard to capture Ukrainian land on two fronts in the east. The most difficult battle is around a town called Avdiivka. Before the war, it had about 32,000 people. It also has Ukraine's largest coke plant. And that's the fuel, not the soda. Now only a few hundred residents remain in Avdiivka. They're hiding in basements, and the Russians are advancing.

MARTIN: And what about the Ukrainian counteroffensive that we've heard so much about?

KAKISSIS: Yeah. Well, the ground operations for Ukraine's counteroffensive are largely stalled, in part because Russian forces have fortified their positions and land mined the front, especially in the south. I spoke to a member of Ukraine's parliament, Solomiia Bobrovska, as she serves on the defense committee, and she tells me what she's hearing from her constituents.

SOLOMIIA BOBROVSKA: These days, people are exhausted. People are tired. People understand that if you want to get victory and to take one village and to put one flag, it costs a lot. And that's a long way we have to go still.

KAKISSIS: And so it feels like this will be a very bleak winter. The mood around the country is much more pessimistic than it was last year.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Joanna Kakissis in Kyiv. Joanna, thank you so much.

KAKISSIS: You're welcome, Michel. 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.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
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.