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Top adviser to Ukraine's president makes the case for the U.S. to resume aid

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This week begins with uncertainty over U.S. aid to Ukraine. Some Republicans in Congress have blocked additional assistance. President Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, says the money is essential as Ukraine battles Russia.

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JAKE SULLIVAN: That requires mobilizing the bipartisan support we have in both the House and Senate, converting that into actual votes.

INSKEEP: Many Republicans agree but have demanded that the aid be combined with a change in U.S. border policies. Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson met with President Biden at the White House last week and sounded unconvinced.

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MIKE JOHNSON: We understand that there's concern about the safety, security, sovereignty of Ukraine, but the American people have those same concerns about our own domestic sovereignty and our safety and our security.

INSKEEP: Senators have been working on a bipartisan agreement on immigration. Amid that debate in Washington, we placed a call to Kyiv. We reached a principal adviser to Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Andriy Yermak is the head of the Office of the President. He steered clear of commenting on American politics, but through an interpreter, he did talk of his country's predicament. The war is nearly two years old, and a Ukrainian offensive last summer didn't end it. How urgent is the need for additional U.S. aid?

ANDRIY YERMAK: (Through interpreter) The aid is really urgent because the price of time at war is human lives. And undoubtedly, we do not have a single moment when we would forget that this awful, horrible war is going on.

INSKEEP: I'd like to ask about the urgency. NPR has interviewed Oleksandra Ustinova, who is the chair of Ukraine's Parliamentary Commission on Arms, who recently said that deliveries of artillery shells to Ukraine are sharply down, and the army has had to sharply reduce the number of artillery shells that it fires, that this is even leading to losing ground. What can you add to that description?

YERMAK: (Through interpreter) Our heroes, our warriors are holding their positions, but it is really hard when we lack the shells, when we feel this lack of what is necessary. And as of today, we liberated, in fact, approximately 50% of the territories which Russia had occupied since the 24 of February 2022. But of course, it is very hard today for our warriors, for our soldiers, when they feel this deficit of artillery shells, and they see this deficit of lots of other necessary things. So undoubtedly, again, aid is urgent. Everything needs to be done in a timely manner.

INSKEEP: Do I understand you to say that you lack sufficient ammunition for your new troops to train as you expand the army?

YERMAK: (Through interpreter) Of course. Yes. I would like to say that we feel this need.

INSKEEP: Is your country ready for another year of war?

YERMAK: (Through interpreter) Do you have any other scenario?

INSKEEP: At this point, Zelenskyy's adviser Yermak switched over into English. He said nobody is ever ready for war.

YERMAK: It's anti-human. It's anti-logic. But at the same time, we are not ready for any compromise for our independence, for our territorial integrity, for sovereignty and for our freedom. All the world, it depends on the Ukrainian success.

INSKEEP: He says Ukrainians are dying to protect all of Europe. His boss, President Zelenskyy, just attended a meeting of global leaders to appeal for greater assistance.

Mr. Yermak, has Ukraine's cause lost some international support as the world moves on to other crises? Do you worry about being forgotten?

YERMAK: (Through interpreter) To the meeting in Davos, where we had 82 countries and even the countries which have complicated relations between themselves, they were still sitting at the same table. And for more than eight hours, we were discussing Ukraine, how to stop the war, how to bring just peace, how to develop the unified plan of the responsible international community and to - how to achieve it.

I don't agree with you. I do not see that. I don't see that their support of Ukraine has decreased. You know, we are living in the world where something always takes place, the conflicts, the wars are taking place. But, you know, Ukraine is still one of the most important topics because this is the biggest war in Europe since the times of the World War II. That is why I do not feel that.

INSKEEP: As you know, there may be Americans listening who would ask, why does the war in Ukraine matter to me? How would you answer an American who puts that question to you?

YERMAK: (Through interpreter) I feel really deep respect to the American people. And first of all, I would begin my answer with the following - we are unmeasurably grateful. We will never forget what has been done by the American people for us.

INSKEEP: Andriy Yermak went on to offer a pragmatic answer to this question. He said the United States may be sending aid to Ukraine, but much of it comes in the form of weapons that American workers are paid to make. So most of the money stays here. Yermak argued this was in the interest of the American economy, as well as American security.

YERMAK: (Through interpreter) The United States of America are, to some extent, a guarantor of security, one of the guarantors, powerful guarantors of security in the world. And that is why the United States really today are playing the key role in the understanding of each of the aggressors in the world. They should understand that there will be response, and the free democratic world is still stronger than any aggressor.

INSKEEP: Mr. Yermak, thank you very much for your time. I really appreciate it.

YERMAK: Thank you very much.

INSKEEP: Andriy Yermak is the head of the Office of the President of Ukraine. He spoke in Kyiv on Friday.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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