Peace Negotiations As Russia Regroups, Election In Hungary, Amazon Workers Unionize : Up First Russia is withdrawing from the areas around Kyiv, claiming it to be a show of good faith as peace talks continue. In Hungary's election Sunday, Prime Minister Viktor Orban faces opposition from parties on the right and the left. And in a historic vote, Staten Island Amazon workers are unionizing.

Peace Negotiations As Russia Regroups, Election In Hungary, Amazon Workers Unionize

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A new attempt to get aid to Ukrainians.


The Red Cross says fighting had turned them back from Mariupol, but this weekend, they're renewing their effort to get to the city.

SIMON: I'm Scott Simon.

RASCOE: I'm Ayesha Rascoe, and this is UP FIRST from NPR News.


RASCOE: We've got the latest from Ukraine.

SIMON: And from Hungary, where the controversial prime minister is facing opposition from parties on the left and the right who want to see him turned out of office.

RASCOE: And Staten Island warehouse employees are celebrating a vote to unionize.


UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Union, union, union.

RASCOE: What does it mean for the future of labor elsewhere?

SIMON: Please stay with us. We've got the news you need to start your weekend.


RASCOE: Representatives from Ukraine and Russia are again trying to negotiate peace now more than five weeks after Russia's invasion. But intense fighting is still ongoing. Russia is promising to withdraw forces around the capital city, Kyiv, as a show of trust.

SIMON: But is that trust or an admission that Russia just can't overtake the city? NPR's Elissa Nadworny is in Kyiv. Elissa, thanks very much for being with us.


SIMON: What's happening on the ground?

NADWORNY: So around Kyiv and in northern Ukraine, Russian forces are withdrawing. You know, this idea that early in the days of the war, Russia could capture the capital city, that's long gone now. But, you know, we don't know yet where these Russian troops are going to be redirected to. The Pentagon says they aren't going home.

But, you know, now as areas previously held by Russian forces are opening up around Kyiv like the suburb of Irpin, video footage and firsthand reports of what happened there are pretty devastating - I mean, documented reports of rape, dead bodies lying on the street, homes destroyed. The mayor of Irpin is saying to residents, just because Ukrainian forces have taken it back, it is not yet safe to come home.

SIMON: And what are the conditions elsewhere in Ukraine?

NADWORNY: Well, across the country, fighting continues, you know, especially in the east in the Donbas region. And overnight, Russian missiles hit a number of cities, including two in central Ukraine, damaging infrastructure and residential buildings according to officials. In the south, Russia is mobilizing troops in a small sliver of unrecognized land between Ukraine and Moldova called Transnistria according to the general staff of Ukraine's armed forces. And the worry there is those forces could threaten Odesa, which is on the Black Sea.

SIMON: Yeah. Elissa, there - of course, there was an attack on a fuel depot in the Russian city of Belgorod, which is near the Ukrainian border. What do we know about that?

NADWORNY: So Russia has said that the attacks came from low-flying Ukrainian helicopters, but Ukraine's top security officials deny it. You know, the place is heavily militarized, so the significance of the hit is that it could really hamper Russia's ability to move supplies to areas in Ukraine specifically in the Kharkiv area. And Russia has said that this attack could also impact peace talks, which are ongoing.

SIMON: The U.N. estimates that more than 10 million people have had to flee their homes in Ukraine. That number is simply staggering. What is being done to help those who still can't get out?

NADWORNY: Yeah. So Ukrainian officials say they're working every day to set up evacuation corridors to get people out of the places in the east and the south that are trapped. Just yesterday, the deputy prime minister said 6,000 residents around Mariupol and in the east from Luhansk made it out. But larger scale efforts have met major challenges. On Friday, the Red Cross attempted to set up a big humanitarian aid convoy to Mariupol, that seaside city that's just been devastated by Russian forces. And they had to turn back. They deemed it too unsafe. The Red Cross says they're going to plan to try again today.

SIMON: And what's Kyiv like at the moment?

NADWORNY: Well, you know, it's quiet here. You know, I've been talking with people who are in the territorial defense about what their sense is of kind of where we are in this war. And people are skeptical of Russia's withdrawal. You know, they're buckling down, preparing for months more of war. I talked with a woman named Iryna Cherhava. She's a medic with a battalion here.

IRYNA CHERHAVA: (Non-English language spoken).

NADWORNY: You know, she told me she's been sleeping in her full uniform because with missiles, you never know where the front line is. She says she does have moments of hope. A few days ago, she started taking off her jacket before she's going to bed. And she laughs, but she thinks, you know, maybe that's a small sign that things are getting better.

SIMON: NPR's Elissa Nadworny in Kyiv. Thanks so much.

NADWORNY: You bet, Scott.


SIMON: Voters in Hungary go to the polls Sunday for an election that's been called the most important in a generation there.

RASCOE: Over his 12 years in power, Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his party have chipped away at the country's democratic institutions and rejected what they dismiss as liberal values.

SIMON: And now, for the first time, six parties from the left and the right have formed a united opposition in hopes of ousting Orban.

RASCOE: NPR's Rob Schmitz joins us now from Budapest, where he's been talking to voters.

Hi there, Rob.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Good morning.

RASCOE: So let's start with what voters are considering there. Like, what can you tell us about Orban's record in office and what the opposition is saying, you know, going into this election?

SCHMITZ: Yeah. In his three terms in office, Viktor Orban has consolidated the country's media so that now more than 90% of traditional news here in Hungary is essentially state propaganda. He's also waged a war against the LGBTQ community. And even though his government receives billions from the European Union, he always rails against the EU and its principles any chance that he can get. So the opposition candidate here is a man named Peter Marki-Zay. He's a mayor of a city in rural southeastern Hungary, and he's a devout Catholic father of seven. And like Orban, he's a conservative. And this was intentional. The opposition parties in Hungary's parliament that represent left-wing and right-wing causes have united behind a candidate who will appeal to Orban's base because they believe strongly that this election is do or die and that Orban, should he win a fourth term, could further crack down on civil rights in what's left of the country's democracy.

RASCOE: Is that plan from the opposition - is it working? Are - how are voters leaning?

SCHMITZ: Yeah. The latest polls show that Orban's Fidesz party is leading opposition parties by 5%, so it's pretty close compared to past elections. Hungary has a population of 10 million. Two million people live here in the capital, Budapest. Nearly everyone I talked to here tells me they're voting against Orban. People like Csilla Szabo (ph), who is nine months pregnant and is due to deliver a baby girl in just two weeks. Here's what she said when I asked her why she wants Orban out.

CSILLA SZABO: Because I want a country for my little girl where she can learn whatever she wants, she can become whatever she wants. Yeah.

RASCOE: So you are hearing lots of opposition to Orban there in Budapest. What about in other, like, more rural parts of the country?

SCHMITZ: Yeah. I had a chance to visit the town of Dunabogdany, a couple of hours north of Budapest this week. I spoke to more than a dozen people. All of them said they're voting for Orban's Fidesz party. Everyone I spoke to had the same reason as Marica Varga (ph).

MARICA VARGA: (Non-English language spoken).

SCHMITZ: So she's saying here that in 10 years, Budapest and the countryside have developed faster than she ever remembers. She says we're seeing new sports stadiums, museums, hospitals. We're also seeing new housing for young families and policies that she thinks protect families. And this opinion is echoed throughout rural Hungary, which is the center of Orban's voting base.

RASCOE: So an urban-rural divide. This is a close election, and both sides have already accused the other of engaging in election fraud. Tell us about that.

SCHMITZ: Yeah, it's pretty tense. You know, just yesterday we saw a news story out of Romania, which is south of Hungary, where a journalist reportedly found dozens of ballots of people who voted for the opposition tossed aside and burned. Here in Budapest, I've talked to opposition politicians, and they formed a network of volunteers. And they're going to be posted at polling sites tomorrow to ensure that this election is as fair as it can be.

RASCOE: That's NPR's Rob Schmitz in Budapest. Thanks, Rob.

SCHMITZ: Thank you.


SIMON: Amazon workers in Staten Island have voted to become the first in the U.S. at that company to unionize.


UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Union. Union. Union.

RASCOE: And that was after a robust campaign against forming a union on the part of Amazon, which had a history of successfully beating back efforts to organize. NPR's Andrea Hsu has been watching the story play out and joins us now. Hi, Andrea.


RASCOE: So tell us about this facility on Staten Island and the workers there who agreed to unionize.

HSU: Well, it's a huge warehouse, Ayesha. It's the largest of four Amazon facilities on Staten Island. More than 8,000 people work there. They pick items for customer orders and package them. And more than half of them turned out for this election. And in the end, the union came out on top by a pretty sizable margin. But it was a pretty tough road getting there.

The organizing was led by this former Amazon supervisor, Chris Smalls, who just created something he called the Amazon Labor Union. He spent months last year gathering enough signatures to petition for a vote. He had to do it all over again after the first petition was rejected, and he raised money for all this through GoFundMe. They didn't have the deep pockets and organizing power of big labor behind them.

And as you can imagine, Amazon put on a fierce countercampaign. They held mandatory meetings at which workers were told they're better off without a union, and they did convince quite a few workers. By no means was this a landslide.

RASCOE: So what made this effort successful when others at Amazon to form unions have failed?

HSU: Well, a lot of it really was people like Smalls and his co-founder, Derrick Palmer, reaching out to their friends and co-workers. Their local bus stop became the gathering place. They'd catch workers heading home from their shifts. You know, they'd have a bonfire going with s'mores. And Smalls said this is where they drummed up support based on their common experiences.

CHRIS SMALLS: We are Amazon workers. Whether we're former or current, we know the ins and out of the company. We know these grievances better than anybody. We live this reality every single day. I lived there for five years. They're still living it. You know, this is what it's about.

RASCOE: And what has been the reaction from Amazon especially since they have fought against this pretty hard?

HSU: Yeah. Well, Amazon said it's disappointed in the outcome of the election and indicated it may file formal objections. But the union is going to look to collective bargaining now. They have this long list of demands - everything from higher wages to longer breaks to better health and safety protections. And they're also busy with another union election later this month at an Amazon warehouse just across the street. And, you know, outside observers say the Staten Island vote is a real breakthrough. Here's what Patricia Campos-Medina of Cornell's Worker Institute told me.

PATRICIA CAMPOS-MEDINA: This is like the spark that lights the fire.

HSU: She says expect to see big labor jump on the bandwagon now that everyone sees organizing at Amazon can be done.

CAMPOS-MEDINA: The AFL-CIO, the Teamsters, the UFCW, SEIU, all those unions who have been claiming that they were going to organize Amazon, now they're going to pay attention.

RASCOE: So is this really an indication that unionization efforts at Amazon will succeed in other parts of the country?

HSU: Well, even Chris Smalls acknowledges that Staten Island is a much more union-friendly place than most. Here's how he put it.

SMALLS: New York is a union town. I do know that every worker knows somebody that's in the union, related to somebody who's in the union. The bus drivers, they get off the bus every day. They speak to union members.

HSU: He says it's a much steeper climb in places like Bessemer, Ala., where votes were also counted this week in a do-over election there. That one is too close to call. We may not have results for a few weeks. And let's not forget, this is Amazon. They have spent millions to fight the union campaigns and have millions more where that came from.

RASCOE: That's NPR's Andrea Hsu. Andrea, thank you.

HSU: You're welcome.

SIMON: And we should note, Amazon is among NPR's financial supporters and also distributes certain NPR content.


RASCOE: And that's UP FIRST for Saturday, April 2nd. I'm Ayesha Rascoe.

SIMON: And I'm Scott Simon. On UP FIRST tomorrow, the story of the queen of nuclear physics and the landmark discovery she made that changed how we see our universe.

RASCOE: Follow us on social media. We're @upfirst on Twitter. And for more news and interviews, books and music, you can find us on the radio.

SIMON: A show called Weekend Edition, Saturday and Sunday mornings. You can find your NPR station at


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