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Zelenskyy leaves Ukraine for an unexpected and high-profile visit to the U.S.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

It's been 300 days since Russia invaded Ukraine. And today, for the first time since then, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is leaving his country.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

For an unexpected and very high-profile visit to Washington aimed at sending a message of defiance to Moscow and showing ongoing support for the billions of dollars of aid that the United States is sending to Kyiv.

FADEL: Joining us now is White House correspondent Asma Khalid. Hi, Asma.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hi there.

FADEL: So first trip Zelenskyy's made outside Ukraine since the war started. What's the message he's sending with this visit, and why now?

KHALID: Well, in terms of why it's happening right now, there's both a global and a domestic audience. The idea here is to show that Ukraine is doing well in the war despite the recent brutal Russian bombardments that have knocked out power. And what this White House has been saying for, you know, ages at this point is that the U.S. is willing to support Ukraine for as long as it takes. But I will say, Leila, this visit also comes at a very critical moment here in Washington. Congress is wrapping up work on a big spending bill that includes new military and economic aid for Ukraine, roughly $45 billion. This is on top of the billions of dollars the U.S. has already given Ukraine.

And, you know, there has been some signs of growing fatigue among the American public in certain polls. For example, a Wall Street Journal survey done just before the midterm elections found that 30% of respondents thought the U.S. was doing too much to help Ukraine. And most of that sentiment was coming from Republican respondents. And back in October, House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy said his party would not write a, quote, "blank check" for Ukraine. That all being said, the White House has been insisting that there is broad bipartisan support for continuing to aid Ukraine.

FADEL: So, in part, this visit to make sure that support continues. But it's not easy to leave Ukraine and get to D.C. What kind of security arrangements were made for President Zelenskyy to leave the country in the midst of war?

KHALID: Well, this trip came together pretty quickly. A senior administration official told reporters last night that President Biden and President Zelenskyy first talked about this idea of a visit about 10 days ago. I asked about the risk assessment in Zelenskyy coming to the U.S. right now, and this administration official told me that they consulted closely with Zelenskyy on the security parameters. But ultimately, this was his decision to make. Zelenskyy has visited some dangerous areas on the front lines of the war. Although I would note that, you know, most of those visits were generally kept secret until after he had left the front lines. This visit is far from secret.

FADEL: So what's the day going to look like? What should we expect to see and hear from Zelenskyy?

KHALID: He's going to spend just a, quote, "few short hours" on the ground from the afternoon into the evening. This trip comes at Biden's invitation, and Zelenskyy will begin his visit at the White House. He'll have what the official told us will be an in-depth, strategic discussion with President Biden about sanctions on Russia, humanitarian aid, as well as military aid and training. The two leaders will then hold a joint press conference. And then later, Zelenskyy will deliver an address to Congress, something that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told members would be a special focus on democracy.

FADEL: And before I let you go, any new details about the kind of aid, the continued help you mentioned earlier that Washington is giving Ukraine?

KHALID: Well, President Biden does plan to announce today that the U.S. will send Ukraine a Patriot missile battery. This is something that Ukrainians had been asking for in defending itself against Russian missiles. The U.S. plans to train Ukraine on how to use this equipment, not within the country of Ukraine but in a third country.

FADEL: NPR's Asma Khalid, thanks as always.

KHALID: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Asma Khalid
Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.
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