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Ukrainian troops have made limited progress retaking Russian-occupied land

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The gridlock in Congress we've been talking about has some real consequences for Ukraine. The compromise deal to keep the government running left out $6 billion in military assistance that Ukraine and President Biden said was urgently needed. Biden even warned lawmakers that time was running out to support Ukraine's counteroffensive.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

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Yeah, its troops are making limited progress on retaking Russian-occupied land. And winter's approaching. And the longer Russia's war on Ukraine lasts, the more support for Ukraine seems to waver, especially among Republicans in Congress. Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, knows this. Here's what he said to our co-host Steve Inskeep in a recent interview.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY: (Through interpreter) We have to kind of be very strict and very fast because we might lose the trust and the support of our partners.

FADEL: Over the weekend, Congress passed a short-term spending bill to keep the government running through mid-November. Not included in the bill was additional aid for Ukraine. And now there's a move to oust House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, creating further instability.

MARTÍNEZ: Joining us now to discuss all this from the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, is NPR's Joanna Kakissis. Joanna, how are the Ukrainian leaders reacting to Congress' decision to forgo aid in this short-term spending bill?

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JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Yeah, so President Zelenskyy is still advocating for more aid because Ukraine desperately needs it. But the government also seems to have realized that large amounts of military aid won't last forever. So Ukraine is actively looking for long-term alternatives to foreign military aid. Just last Friday at a defense forum in Kyiv, the government brought together international arms manufacturers from dozens of countries. President Zelenskyy told the forum that Ukraine has to make progress on the battlefield every day. And to make that happen, Ukraine's new defense minister, Rustem Umerov, says he wants Ukraine to partner with its allies and defense industry leaders to manufacture world-class weapons.

RUSTEM UMEROV: (Speaking Ukrainian).

KAKISSIS: He's saying, "Our mission is to produce weapons to cover Ukraine's needs right now and then, after the war, to export those weapons."

MARTÍNEZ: All right. Now, another winter approaches of all this. Where do things stand on the battlefield?

KAKISSIS: Well, there's been some incremental progress on the front line, mainly in the south and the east. But Ukrainian forces have been stymied for two main reasons. One is land mines. The southern front is filled with them, and Ukrainian forces have to clear them or go around them so they can sever the land bridge to Crimea. That would cut off Russian supply routes. And the other reason for the slow progress is that Russians have learned from their mistakes early in the war and are fighting more effectively. Now, I just mentioned Crimea. That's the southern peninsula in Ukraine that Russia occupied in 2014. Ukrainian forces have recently made bold strikes there, attacking Russian positions with long-range missiles provided by the West.

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MARTÍNEZ: Now, in a letter to congressional leaders, the Pentagon warned that it's running low on money to replace weapons that they sent to Ukraine. So what does that mean for this counteroffensive?

KAKISSIS: Yeah, well, that's probably not going to help the counteroffensive. But the Ukrainians are determined to end this war on their terms. And that means getting all their land back. But they know that this is going to come at a high cost. This weekend, we were at a memorial in central Kyiv celebrating Ukraine soldiers. And that's where we met 39-year-old Serhii Manko. He spends his weekends delivering supplies to soldiers.

SERHII MANKO: (Speaking Ukrainian).

KAKISSIS: And he's saying here that when he visits the front line, he hears soldiers talking all the time about how every piece of land they retake comes at the expense of someone's life.

MARTÍNEZ: Joanna, how is the slow pace of the counteroffensive playing out with Ukraine's other allies?

KAKISSIS: So on Monday, yesterday, foreign ministers from countries in the European Union showed up here in Kyiv to show their support for Ukraine and for fast-tracking Ukraine's EU membership. But there are cracks here, and they're growing. Hungry, for example, is already friendly with the Kremlin. And a pro-Kremlin party won elections in Slovakia this weekend.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. That's NPR's Joanna Kakissis in Kyiv. Joanna, thanks.

KAKISSIS: You're welcome. 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.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Joanna Kakissis
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.