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Ukrainians worry over wavering U.S. and EU support as Christmas approaches

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

As we've been reporting, support from Ukraine's allies is wavering. But Ukrainians are still preparing to celebrate Christmas, and they will do so in December for the first time. NPR's Joanna Kakissis has more.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: At a sparkly Christmas village in Kyiv, the ice rink is packed with bundled up skaters gliding to holiday music. Forty-year-old Andrey Maslianikov (ph) waves at his two young children. He's smiling, but he says he carries a constant fear that Ukraine's Western partners are losing faith in his country.

ANDREY MASLIANIKOV: (Speaking Ukrainian).

KAKISSIS: "Without their support," he says, "90% of these happy people skating today, maybe they will all be gone." Maslianikov and his family lost their own home nearly two years ago when Russia invaded their village in the now occupied east.

MASLIANIKOV: (Speaking Ukrainian).

KAKISSIS: "You feel the wound of this loss in your heart," he says, "and you can see it on our faces." He works as a delivery man and donates a chunk of his earnings to Ukraine's military every month. Of course, he says, this is nothing compared to the combined $115 billion from the U.S. and the EU that's now in limbo. Votes to approve the money failed last week in Washington and Brussels.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELLS JINGLING)

KAKISSIS: At a Christmas market featuring Ukrainian-made products, a bearded soldier who works in reconnaissance is convinced the U.S. and EU will eventually come through.

SERHIY: (Speaking Ukrainian).

KAKISSIS: "Sooner or later we will have their support again," he says. "For now, we will use the resources we already have more sparingly." The soldier only gives his first name, Serhiy (ph), for security reasons. He's shopping at the Christmas market with his wife and 4-year-old son.

SERHIY: (Speaking Ukrainian).

KAKISSIS: "My family was living in Germany," he says, "and now they have come home to me." He says he's happy that Ukraine is now officially celebrating Christmas with the West on December 25. Until this year, Ukraine had marked the legal holiday in January, according to the Russian Orthodox calendar.

SERHIY: (Speaking Ukrainian).

KAKISSIS: "Kyiv is now in the Christmas mood, as much as it can be," he says. "We don't want everyone to cry in the streets and wear black armbands." Outside a shopping mall, a grizzled man in a knit cap sells Christmas trees trucked in from Denmark.

ALEC: (Speaking Russian).

KAKISSIS: "It will be very hard for Ukraine to win this war, no matter how much money the West gives," he says. The man says his name is Alec (ph), but he won't share his full name because he believes other Ukrainians will punish him for his beliefs. He says the West is weak. He says he admires Russian President Vladimir Putin.

ALEC: (Speaking Russian).

KAKISSIS: "Russia invaded Ukraine," he says, "but now Russia is fighting NATO." And he believes Russia is winning. Back at the skating rink, Andrey Maslianikov hugs his two children. His younger sister, Yuliia Volkanova (ph), takes photos of her 11-year-old son Misha (ph) as he skates by.

YULIIA VOLKANOVA: (Speaking Ukrainian).

KAKISSIS: She says Misha remembers the Russian attack on their hometown. The family hid in their basement for weeks before escaping to Kyiv.

VOLKANOVA: (Speaking Ukrainian).

KAKISSIS: She says Misha wants to go home, where he had his room, his books, his toys. But without the West's support, she adds, she's not sure that's ever going to happen.

Joanna Kakissis, NPR News, Kyiv.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHASING MIRRORS' "JOY TO THE WORLD") 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.

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.
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.