Congress vets a possible ambassador to Ukraine and considers billions more in aid

Published May 10, 2022 at 8:54 AM EDT
A view of the city of Mariupol yesterday amid the ongoing Russian military action in Ukraine.
STRINGER/AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
A view of the city of Mariupol yesterday amid the ongoing Russian military action in Ukraine.

Bridget Brink, a career diplomat who is President Biden's pick to serve as ambassador to Ukraine will be on Capitol Hill today before the Senate Foreign Relations committee for a confirmation hearing.

Here's what we're following:

Democrats say they hope to quickly pass nearly $40 billion in additional aid for Ukraine. President Biden dropped his request to combine the Ukraine money with a separate request for additional COVID-19 response funds, so that the Ukraine aid can pass faster.

Lithuania's parliament has designated Russia as a terrorist country and its actions in Ukraine as genocide. Lawmakers there are calling for Russia to be held accountable for alleged war crimes and genocide in Ukraine.

Bono and Edge of the Irish rock band U2 played a concert in a Kyiv subway station on Sunday. Bono addressed the audience between songs, praising the Ukrainian resistance, expressing his hopes for peace and invoking the struggles of his own country.

International Dispatch
From Odesa

Russian missiles struck Odesa warehouses with no weapons inside, killing two people

Posted May 10, 2022 at 12:20 PM EDT
Parts of a missile lie on the ground outside rubble and a damaged shopping center.
Oleksandr Gimanov
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AFP via Getty Images
A man walks past fragments of missiles in front of the shopping and entertainment center in the Ukrainian Black Sea city of Odessa on Tuesday, destroyed after overnight Russian missile strikes.

Russian missiles struck two warehouses around Odesa overnight, killing two people and injuring seven.

Firemen were still trying to put out some flames more than a dozen hours after a cruise missile blew up a warehouse behind a shopping mall north of downtown.

Debris inside a building.
Frank Langfitt
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NPR
The blast from the missile not only blew apart a warehouse, but also damaged nearby buildings.

Police say there were no weapons inside the warehouse, just clothing and food for the mall's supermarket.

When asked why the warehouse was targeted, police on the scene shrugged and shook their heads. Ukrainian authorities think this may be a function of the Russians relying at times on old missiles with faulty targeting systems. In another puzzling development over the weekend near Odesa, a Russian missile destroyed a beachfront resort. Just down the coast on Monday night, another missile hit a customs warehouse that usually houses cars and goods coming in and out of the port.

Responders walks on a road covered with debris.
Frank Langfitt
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NPR
Responders were still trying to put out flames hours after the overnight attack.

Media

Ukranian journalists win a Pulitzer citation for their courage and persistence

Posted May 10, 2022 at 12:02 PM EDT
A journalist wearing a helmet speaks with people near cameras on a wintery street.
Pierre Crom
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Getty Images
Journalists are seen working on the doorstep of an hotel on Maidan Square on March 1, 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine.

Among yesterday's list of Pulitzer Prize winners was a group of people credited for their commitment to the profession, not necessarily by name or employer: the journalists of Ukraine.

The Pulitzer Prize Board awarded Ukranian journalists a special citation for what it described as "their courage, endurance, and commitment to truthful reporting during Vladimir Putin’s ruthless invasion of their country and his propaganda war in Russia."

"Despite bombardment, abductions, occupation, and even deaths in their ranks, they have persisted in their effort to provide an accurate picture of a terrible reality, doing honor to Ukraine and to journalists around the world," the announcement reads.

The Pulitzer board says on its website that it awards special awards or citations, on rare occasions, to "a work or an individual of particular merit." Last year's special citation went to Darnella Frazier, who filmed George Floyd's murder in Minneapolis when she was 17.

While prize winners in most categories get a $15,000 cash award, Marjorie Miller, an administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes, told NPR over email that there is no set practice on special citation winners.

"In this case, the board didn’t assign a monetary award as there is not a specific person or organization," she explained. "They wanted to recognize all Ukranian journalists covering the war."

At least seven journalists have been killed while covering the war in Ukraine, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Poynter reports that three of them were Ukranian nationals: Yevhenii Sakun, a camera operator for Ukraine’s LIVE station; Fox News producer Oleksandra (Sasha) Kuvshynova and photojournalist Maksym (Maks) Levin.

CPJ says it is investigating the deaths of five other journalists to determine if they were work-related.

"Scores more have faced shelling, shooting and detention as they work to provide vital information about the invasion," the organization said, adding that Russian journalists have also faced threats and detention during Moscow's crackdown on independent media.

The Pulitzer citation comes less than a week after independent rights experts appointed by the United Nations warned that journalists in Ukraine had been targeted and remained in danger.

In a joint statement, the officials outlined six areas of concern, from reports of Russian cyberattacks in Ukraine to censorship and disinformation about the war in Russia. One of those categories was the safety of media workers in Ukraine, who they said "are carrying out their work under unprecedented conditions, and are now at a very high risk."

"There are numerous reports that journalists are being targeted, tortured, kidnapped, attacked and killed, or refused safe passage from the cities and regions under siege," they wrote, adding that attacks to kill, injure or abduct journalists are considered war crimes under international humanitarian law.

They also said states must take measures to trace missing journalists, provide assistance and help return them to their families.

Social media users — including some Ukranian journalists — applauded and appreciated the Pulitzer news after Monday's announcement, acknowledging the pain and difficulty of covering a war in one's own homeland.

"Every reporter in Ukraine is doing their job under impossible, harrowing, heartbreaking conditions," tweetedJane Lytvynenko, a senior research fellow at Harvard University's Shorenstein Center. "They deserve every award. Congratulations to the journalists of Ukraine, you are an inspiration and masters of the profession."

She added "take care of yourselves" and a link for people to donate to a Ukraine journalism emergency fund to provide equipment like satellite phones and bulletproof vests.

Must See
Protests

Video: Demonstrators in Poland splash a Russian ambassador with fake blood

Posted May 10, 2022 at 10:52 AM EDT

The Russian ambassador to Poland was splattered with fake blood by demonstrators in Warsaw on Monday.

Chanting “fascists” and waving Ukrainian flags, demonstrators blocked the ambassador’s way as he walked toward a cemetery for Soviet soldiers and prevented him from laying a wreath to commemorate the Soviet defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II.

The Russian embassy had planned to hold an official ceremony at the site but canceled it after a negative response from Warsaw’s mayor and the foreign ministry.

Foreign policy officials from both Russia and Poland decried the incident, the Associated Press reports, with a Russian spokesperson saying Europeans “should be scared to see their reflection in a mirror.”

Must Listen
On the ground

Russian disinformation is convincing some Estonians and alienating others

Posted May 10, 2022 at 10:23 AM EDT
Cars drive over a bride above blue water.
Sean Gallup
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Getty Images
Vehicles wait to cross from Estonia into Russia over the Narva River on March 23, 2017 at Narva, Estonia.

NPR's Jenna McLaughlin recently visited Narva, an Estonian city right on the border with Russia that has strong cultural and linguistic ties to the country (some 95% of residents speak Russian, for instance).

Russian President Vladimir Putin has justified his invasion of Ukraine in part by saying that he wants to protect Russian-speaking populations across the former Soviet Union. In Narva, Russian disinformation has resonated with some people and spurred critics into action.

McLaughlin spoke with people there about their views of Russia and their reception of its talking points — for example, propaganda that stresses Russia is suffering losses in the war, without mentioning that its invasion was unprovoked.

McLaughlin spoke with Adam Rang, who in typical times drives an abandoned Soviet-era truck that has been outfitted with a sauna around to private parties and events, as part of the sauna export business. After the war started, he wanted to do more — and now he patrols Twitter for Russian disinformation as a volunteer on the cyberdefense unit.

"Russians in Estonia, they talk about them as a single group, and they kind of assume, 'Oh, they're all going to be loyal to Putin,' and it's nonsense," he says — before acknowledging that while it's hard for him to symphatize with Russia during its war of aggression in Ukraine, Russian troops are victims of misinformation, too.

Hear from a local politician who has changed her mind about Putin and an older woman who has not, as well as a young Estonian working in the tech industry, who says Russia is sowing divisions and that Estonia is actually creating a space for Russian culture in the form of dance halls, bilangual schools and a Russian-language television channel.

Listen to McLaughin's reporting here.

International Dispatch
From Ukraine

44 bodies were found in a collapsed building, Ukrainian officials say

Posted May 10, 2022 at 9:50 AM EDT

KYIV — Officials in Ukraine say they’ve found the remains of 44 people under a destroyed building in the East of the country. The bodies were uncovered as workers cleared debris from the site.

The head of the local military administration says the bodies were found in the rubble of a five-story residential building in the small city of Izyum between Kharkiv and Luhansk.

According to the official, the apartment building collapsed after being bombed in the first week of March. Residents appeared to have been sheltering in the basement.

Izyum has been the site of fierce clashes between Ukrainian and Russian troops. Russia claimed to have taken Izyum in early March. Control of the city went back and forth between the two sides for weeks.

Ukrainian officials say most of the residents have fled and 80% of the residential buildings in Izyum are damaged or destroyed.

Music

U2's Bono and the Edge held a concert in a Kyiv subway station in support of Ukraine

Posted May 10, 2022 at 9:25 AM EDT
Three musicians, one wearing military fatigues, sing in a pink-lit tunnel.
Sergei Supinsky
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AFP via Getty Images
Bono, Taras Topolia and "The Edge" perform at a subway station-turned-bomb shelter in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv on Sunday.

Two members of the Irish rock band U2 played a concert in a Kyiv subway station on Sunday, performing some of their classics and sharing the stage with Ukranian musicians.

Bono and the Edge wrote on Twitter that Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had invited them to perform in Kyiv "as a show of solidarity with the Ukrainian people."

And that's what they did, playing a roughly 40-minute acoustic set to a crowd of about 100 people gathered in the relative safety of the Khreshchatyk metro station-turned-bomb shelter.

They performed hits like "With or Without You," "Desire," "Angel of Harlem" and "Vertigo" to a rapt audience that included soldiers in military fatigues.

Bono addressed the audience between songs, praising the Ukranian resistance and expressing his hopes for peace. At one point, the Irish Times notes, he invoked the struggles of his own home country.

"The people in Ukraine are not just fighting for your own freedom, you are fighting for all of us who love freedom,” he said. "We pray that you will enjoy some of that peace soon.”

They also performed alongside Ukrainian singer Taras Topolia and members of his band, Antytila. They are among the many civilians, including artists, who have taken up arms to defend their country, and were dressed in military uniforms.

The two groups sang a rendition of Ben E. King's "Stand By Me," changing the lyrics to "Stand by Ukraine."

"This station covered a lot of people from the bombs, and now in this station U2 is covering all of the world with their love," Topolia said.

Antytila later wrote on Instagram that the performance had been impromptu and without rehearsal.

They said they had traveled from Kharkiv to Kyiv at Bono's personal invitation, and called it a "very important moment for us and all country."

They also thanked the U2 musicians and the people of Ireland for their support of Ukraine, and called on leaders of European countries and the European Union to help with diplomatic efforts and the evacuation of Ukrainian soldiers from the besieged city of Mariupol.

Zelenskyy thanked the global superstars in his nightly video address, according to Reuters.

"I am grateful to [Bono, U2] for supporting our people and drawing even more attention to the need to help our people," he said.

Bono and the Edge were later pictured visiting Bucha and Irpin, two cities near Kyiv where Russian troops are accused of committing war crimes. The Irish Times says they greeted people as they toured damage in a residential area in Irpin, and visited the site of a mass grave near a church in Bucha.

Politics

Lithuania designates Russia as a terrorist country, a global first

Posted May 10, 2022 at 8:54 AM EDT
A large crowd of protesters hold up lit cell phones and Ukranian flags in front of a government building.
Petras Malukas
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AFP via Getty Images
Demonstrators protest the Russian invasion of Ukraine at Independence Square in front of the Parliament Palace in Vilnius, Lithuania ,on March 24, 2022.

Lithuania's parliament has designated Russia a terrorist country and its actions in Ukraine as genocide.

The Lithuanian Seimas tweeted Tuesday that its members had passed the resolution unanimously.

This makes Lithuania the first country to declare Russia a perpetrator of terrorism, according to Ukraine's Centre for Strategic Communications and Information Security. It's not the first to formally accuse Russia of genocide: Canadian lawmakers unanimously adopted such a motion last month.

Lithuania's resolution says that Russia's armed forces and mercenaries have committed war crimes in Ukraine, citing the atrocities reported in places Bucha, Irpin, Mariupol, Borodyaka, Hostomel and other cities, according to public broadcaster Lithuanian National Radio and Television (LRT).

"The Russian Federation, whose military forces deliberately and systematically target civilian targets, is a state that supports and perpetrates terrorism," the resolution reads.

It also recognizes "the full-scale armed aggression — war — against Ukraine by the armed forces of the Russian Federation and its political and military leadership [...] as genocide against the Ukrainian people."

LRT says the resolution describes Russia's intent as destroying Ukraine and breaking its spirit by "killing entire families, including children, abducting and raping people, and mocking them and the bodies of the murdered."

Lawmakers are calling for Russia to be held accountable for alleged war crimes in Ukraine. They are advocating for the establishment of an international tribunal to investigate Russia's actions, and want it to have the power to issue international arrest warrants.

Ukranian officials are praising Lithuania's resolution. Ruslan Stefanchuk, chairman of Ukraine's parliament, described it as "historic" in posts on social media.

"I urge the whole world to pick up the baton so that the memory of the mass murders of Ukrainians has never been erased by the enemy!" he said.

Still, the declaration is not without risks. It could worsen the former Soviet republic's increasingly tense relationship with Russia, as one expert noted on Tuesday.

Samuel Ramani, a geopolitical analyst and associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London, tweeted that Lithuania's moves were provoking "harsh reactions in Moscow," with one Russian legislator warning that Russia could completely cut off economic ties with the country.

Lithuania, which is a member of NATO, has taken other concrete steps to distance itself from Russia since the start of its war in Ukraine. In April, it became the first European Union nation to stop Russian gas imports.

And, most recently, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis called for regime change in Russia in a Monday interview with the Associated Press: “As long as a regime that intends to wage wars outside Russian territory is in place, the countries surrounding it are in danger."

International aid

Congress looks to pass nearly $40 billion in aid for Ukraine

Posted May 10, 2022 at 8:54 AM EDT
Black smoke rises from a building in the distance above a field of yellow flowers.
YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP via Getty Images
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AFP
Smoke rises after shelling on an oil refinery near Lysychansk, in eastern Ukraine.

Congressional Democrats plan to move ahead with an expanded funding package to aid Ukraine. The lawmakers hope to pass the funding quickly to meet ongoing needs as the country battles continued attacks from Russia.

Democrats say they hope to pass nearly $40 billion in additional aid for Ukraine, up from the $33 billion President Biden requested last month. According to multiple congressional sources, the latest package includes $3.4 billion in new funding for food aid and an equal $3.4 billion increase in spending authority for military aid.

In a statement, President Biden said he is dropping his request to combine the Ukraine money with a separate request for additional COVID-19 response funds, so that the Ukraine aid can pass quickly.

"This aid has been critical to Ukraine’s success on the battlefield. We cannot allow our shipments of assistance to stop while we await further congressional action," Biden said. "We are approximately ten days from hitting this critical deadline."

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin sent a letter to lawmakers urging them to pass the expanded aid for Ukraine.

Republicans had threatened to block the COVID-19 money because of an unrelated border policy dispute.

There has been wide bipartisan support for Ukraine aid, and leaders hope to pass the latest funding bill in the coming days.

Congress

The U.S may soon have an ambassador to Ukraine — for the first time since 2019

Posted May 10, 2022 at 8:54 AM EDT
A person walks past the U.S. embassy in Kyiv. It has a metal fence around the building.
John Moore/Getty Images
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Getty Images Europe
A woman walks past the closed United States Embassy to Ukraine.

President Biden's pick to serve as ambassador to Ukraine will be on Capitol Hill today before the Senate Foreign Relations committee for her confirmation hearing.

For much of her 25 year career at the State Department, Bridget Brink has worked on Europe and Eurasia, most recently serving as Ambassador to Slovakia. Several members of the Senate Foreign Relations committee already have issued statements supporting her.

The State Department is hoping she'll be confirmed quickly. The U.S. is trying to reopen its embassy in Kyiv, which was evacuated shortly before Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

If confirmed, Brink would be the first Senate-approved ambassador to Ukraine since former president Trump fired then-ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, who then testified in Trump's first impeachment inquiry.