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As winter nears, Ukraine fears the U.S. will stop assisting in the war against Russia

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

With all the news in the Middle East, it could be easy to forget that fighting is still going on across hundreds of miles in Ukraine. The U.S. has sent billions of dollars' worth of military assistance to Ukraine over nearly two years. And in Washington, there are growing questions about whether that assistance should keep flowing. That shaky support worries Ukrainians who are bracing for another cold, dark winter. NPR's Nate Rott is in Kyiv. Hey, Nate.

NATE ROTT, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Before we get to the situation where you are, we've heard a lot about dissent in Congress over U.S. funding for Ukraine. So what's the latest on whether that money is likely to come through?

ROTT: Yeah. So the Biden administration has been asking Congress to approve another massive package of what it calls security assistance. This would include money for Ukraine, Israel, the Pacific and the U.S.-Mexico border. It would be more than $105 billion in total, with roughly 60 billion of that headed for Ukraine. Biden has been making the case for this for more than a month. He talked about it during his prime-time Oval Office speech a month ago. But it hasn't gained as much traction in Congress, where Republicans have been trying to split this package up into smaller pieces.

SHAPIRO: And how closely are ordinary people in Ukraine following that debate?

ROTT: I mean, they're following it really closely. Talking to Ukrainians here, you know, everyone from restaurant workers to soldiers to, you know, officials, people know that the world's attention has shifted since conflict broke out in the Middle East. They know that they're not the leading news story every night. And I think that's hard for a lot of people. Last night, we talked to the wife of a wounded Ukrainian soldier who's already been redeployed to the front lines, even though he still has shrapnel in his body. Her name is Olga Bilianska. Let's hear from her here.

I'm curious, what would you tell a politician who doesn't want to give aid to Ukraine?

OLGA BILIANSKA: (Non-English language spoken).

ROTT: "Give our boys a lot of weapons" is what she's saying. "They will destroy those who are making such a mess here." Russia has more than three times as many people as Ukraine in population, she pointed out. So without Western weapons, she says, it's really hard to see how Ukraine can win.

SHAPIRO: Right now, are those weapons still flowing?

ROTT: Yeah, they are. I mean, while Congress has waffled on the degree to which the U.S. should continue supporting Ukraine, the European Union has made a very concerted point to continue its military assistance. They're still helping train Ukrainian soldiers. They're providing them with ammunition and other equipment.

Earlier this week on Monday, Lloyd Austin, the U.S. Secretary of Defense, visited Kyiv, where I am, to try to reassure Ukrainian leadership. And the State Department followed that up the same day by announcing a new package of up to $100 million worth of weapons and equipment for Ukraine. That is not the money that the Biden administration is currently asking for. That was already allotted. So military aid is still coming. But there's certainly a sense of anxiety here that I don't think I've really felt during my last couple of reporting trips to the country.

SHAPIRO: And is all of that anxiety about the flow of weapons from the U.S. and its allies, or is there more going on?

ROTT: There's a lot more going on. I mean, I think just the general state of the war is pretty bleak. You know, the front lines in Ukraine haven't moved much for a year. Ukraine has not made the big territorial gains that it was making a year ago, when it retook areas in the Kherson region and the Kharkiv region. And the head of Ukraine's armed forces said earlier this month that the conflict is now pretty much at a World War I-like stalemate, which is a characterization, we should say, that Ukraine's president has strongly objected to. But I do think there is a sense amongst the general public here that this fight is not going to end anytime soon.

The wife of the soldier that we heard from earlier says she's already helped raise money for funerals for seven soldiers in her husband's brigade. And she doesn't think this fighting is going to end until 2026 at the earliest. And obviously, this is just her view. She doesn't have a crystal ball. She doesn't have any better sense of this than the rest of us. But it gives you a sense of what the general people in Ukraine are feeling right now after nearly two years of war.

SHAPIRO: And is that the general view among others who you talked to as well?

ROTT: Yeah. I mean, look, we talked to soldiers in Sloviansk, like a 30-minute drive from Bakhmut, which Russia now occupies. And they say, we're tired. I think a lot of people - in the first year of the war, there was all of these victories. There was this kind of like, everybody came together and realized like, hey, we got to push this aggressor out. And that kind of enthusiasm has kind of fallen off in the last year just because we haven't seen those big territorial gains. And I think a lot of people in Ukraine are just kind of looking at the situation now and thinking, OK, this isn't going to end any time soon. What decision do I need to make for myself now? And that's a really hard place, I think, for a lot of people to be.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Nathan Rott in Kyiv. Thanks, Nate.

ROTT: Yeah. Thank you, Ari. 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.

Nathan Rott
Nathan Rott is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where he focuses on environment issues and the American West.