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Ukraine presses military-age Ukrainian men living abroad to register for service


As Ukraine awaits badly needed military aid approved by Congress earlier this month, its troops are struggling to keep Russians from advancing.


Yeah. And it's not just weapons and ammunition in short supply. Ukraine also desperately needs more soldiers and is pressing military-age Ukrainian men living abroad to register for service.

MARTÍNEZ: Joining us to discuss all of this is NPR's Ukraine correspondent Joanna Kakissis, who's in the capital of Kyiv. Joanna, so let's start with that military aid. When is that aid arriving, and what will it include?

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Well, the U.S. has said that the first weapon should be arriving in Ukraine any day, but it will likely take weeks for most of the aid to arrive. The package includes missiles for air defense so Ukraine can shoot down the missiles and drones Russia launches at the country every day. These are missiles that kill civilians and destroy critical infrastructure, such as power plants. There are also Stinger antiaircraft missiles that can be used to bring down Russian helicopters, low-flying aircraft and cruise missiles.

There have also been reports that there are long-range missiles in the package, like ATACMS. And crucially, there is more ammunition, and Ukrainians cannot emphasize enough how important that is. Ukraine's President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, has said repeatedly that Russian troops are firing 10 times more artillery rounds than Ukrainian soldiers are.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. Joanna, so then are you hearing then that these weapons will help Ukraine maybe turn the tide on the battlefield? I mean, and what is the latest on the front lines?

KAKISSIS: So Ukrainian military leaders and analysts are saying that Russia is trying to take advantage of these weeks before most of the weapons get here. The Russians have stepped up attacks, especially on the eastern front line. Ukraine's armed forces commander, Oleksandr Syrskyi, said that the outlook there is very bleak. He said Ukrainian troops had to abandon positions and retreat from three villages in the eastern Donetsk region. He also said that Russians are trying to occupy Ukrainian logistical hubs. One of those is a railway hub. It is the main supply point for Ukrainian forces along the eastern front.

MARTÍNEZ: Ukrainians, though, need more than just weapons. They're short...


MARTÍNEZ: ...On soldiers, right?

KAKISSIS: Yeah. That's right. Ukraine says it needs hundreds of thousands of soldiers, and that's why Zelenskyy signed new laws lowering the draft age to 25 and requiring something like 800,000 military-age men living abroad to sign up for a military registry.

We spoke to a 46-year-old veteran. His name is Andriy Furman. He was so badly injured in combat that he can no longer fight. And he says that there is a catastrophic shortage of fighters.

ANDRIY FURMAN: (Non-English language spoken).

FURMAN: (Non-English language spoken).

KAKISSIS: He's saying the soldiers who have been fighting since day one are saying, look, we simply don't have the strength anymore to go on. And to relieve them, Ukraine says it wants military-age men living abroad to return home. But Oleksii Rudenko - he's an investment banker we spoke to - he says he doesn't think this is going to work out.

OLEKSII RUDENKO: (Non-English language spoken).

KAKISSIS: He's saying, I don't think these men, if they are dragged back to Ukraine, will be adequate, motivated fighters. He says, they are not a resource Ukraine should count on.

MARTÍNEZ: Joanna, you've been reporting on this for a while. Where are people's fatigue level right now? It's got to be almost at the end.

KAKISSIS: Yeah. They're not optimistic like they were at the beginning of the war, when there were some victories. Right now, people are absolutely exhausted. They see the shortages on the battlefield of soldiers. They see that the ammunition and the weapons are taking time to come. And so you see there's just this very strong air of depression. With that in mind, you know, this is why the government is trying so hard to get some momentum going. If it's not the weapons, let's try to get more soldiers on the field so we can turn the tide around and not only help us on the battlefield, but also help improve the mood on the ground.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. That's NPR's Joanna Kakissis in Kyiv. Joanna, thank you very much for your reporting on this.

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.