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Blinken tells Ukraine U.S. aid will make a difference against Russia's offensive

Secretary of State Antony Blinken visits the Independence Square during his visit to Kyiv, Ukraine, on Tuesday.
Vladimir Shtanko/Anadolu via Getty Images
Secretary of State Antony Blinken visits the Independence Square during his visit to Kyiv, Ukraine, on Tuesday.

Updated May 14, 2024 at 14:01 PM ET

KYIV, Ukraine — In an unannounced visit to the Ukrainian capital, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said part of a U.S. aid package has arrived and more is on it way, which will "make a real difference" against Russia's offensive.

Blinken said President Biden shipped ammunition, armored vehicles and other weaponry to Ukraine "one minute" after Congress passed the $61 billion package last month. "Much more will be delivered to the battlefield in the coming weeks," he added.

Congressional Republicans had delayed the aid for months, leaving Ukrainian troops low on ammunition and weapons.

In a speech at Kyiv Polytechnic Institute, Blinken declared that the U.S. is "bringing Ukraine closer to — and then into — NATO."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy (left) and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken shake hands during their meeting on Tuesday in Kyiv, Ukraine.
/ Vitalii Nosach /Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images
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Vitalii Nosach /Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy (left) and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken shake hands during their meeting on Tuesday in Kyiv, Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was quick to emphasize how badly Ukraine needs a fresh supply of weapons and ammunition, pointing out that it's a "tough period for the east of our country, for our warriors." He asked Blinken for two more Patriot air defense systems to protect the northeastern region, which includes Kharkiv, Ukraine's second largest city.

Since Friday, Ukrainian troops have been struggling to push back a renewed Russian offensive near Kharkiv. Russian troops have occupied several border villages and are on the outskirts of the town of Vovchansk, which is just 5 miles from the Russian border. Russia occupied the town several months after the full-scale invasion in February 2022, until Ukrainian troops reclaimed it.

Thousands of Ukrainians have fled their homes. Volunteer rescue worker Hryhorii Shcherban, who has been evacuating residents from Vovchansk, told NPR that only a few hundred remain. He says many are elderly and infirm.

"They don't want to leave their homes," he says.

He says that while he was there, Russians dropped at least three guided aerial bombs, which are highly destructive.

"After that, there was constant gunfire," he says. "Suddenly the requests for evacuations increased dramatically."

Dima Yermolovych, a Ukrainian soldier stationed in the area, describes the challenges facing troops.

"It's really hard to keep back Russians without enough equipment, being as outnumbered as we are," he says, "as they attack again and again with tanks and infantry, with troops really prepared for this assault."

Military analysts say Russia may have launched the latest attack so Ukraine would move troops from other parts of the front line, where Russians are also pressing forward.

Ukraine is facing a severe shortage of troops. A new conscription goes into effect this month but it will likely take several weeks to train new soldiers for battle.

Copyright 2024 NPR

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.