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The long road ahead for Ukraine after secured military assistance from the U.S.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

It has taken months of debate on the Hill, but Ukraine finally has the military assistance it has been desperately seeking. Ukraine says that this U.S. aid will make all the difference between winning and losing the war to Russia. But after two years of punishing fighting, what winning looks like is an increasingly complicated question. For more, we're joined now by NPR Ukraine correspondent Joanna Kakissis and NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Hey to both of you.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Hello.

CHANG: Hello. OK, Joanna, I want to start with you. Like, what are you hearing from Ukrainian troops about the latest on the frontline? Like, why is this aid so critical at this moment?

KAKISSIS: So the situation on the eastern frontline, where most of the active fighting is now going on - it's very bleak. And that's the word that Ukraine's military chief Oleksandr Syrskii used. He says that in the six months it took Congress to approve the latest aid package, Russia built up its offensives all along the eastern frontline. The Russians have occupied a city and a few villages in eastern Ukraine, and one of the most intense battles that's taking place right now is outside the town of Chasiv Yar, which we visited back in March. If the Russians occupy this town, it will clear the way for them to capture a railway hub that gets supplies to Ukrainian troops. Today we spoke to a soldier who is in Chasiv Yar right now, Oleh Shyriaiev. He's the commander of the 225th Separate Assault Battalion. He described how a lack of ammunition and troops has affected their positions.

OLEH SHYRIAIEV: (Through interpreter) Over the past three to four weeks, the enemy has been constantly advancing. They are storming with infantry, and in some cases, there are 10 times more of them.

KAKISSIS: He told us that the military aid approved by Congress has not made it to the frontline, at least not the one he is on. But he believes that when it arrives, his troops will be able to push the Russians back from Chasiv Yar.

CHANG: Well, Tom, what about you? Like, what are you hearing from U.S. defense officials? How do they see this new aid helping on the battlefield?

T BOWMAN: Well, Ailsa, first of all, officials in defense analysts say Ukraine's finally getting the artillery shells they need, the air defense missiles and, maybe more importantly, longer-range attack missiles that have already allowed Ukraine to hit Russian locations in Crimea and elsewhere. But that six-month delay in Congress approving that aid allowed Russia to make some advances, as Joanna just said. This sense with Pentagon officials and defense analysts is this year Ukraine will shore up its defenses, regroup and train more forces. It's unlikely they can mount a big offensive like the attempted last year. But here's Brad Bowman with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

BRAD BOWMAN: I will be shocked if Ukraine has the ability to put together any sort of operational, strategic-level offensive this year. I don't expect that - so avoiding the loss of major cities, population centers this year, stopping or slowing the Russian momentum and then putting in the reforms and delivering the weapons systems necessary to see more results in 2025.

T BOWMAN: So next year for an offensive against Russian forces, although there is a sense, Ailsa, that with the new weaponry, Ukraine might be able to exploit some Russian weaknesses here and there because you can't just be on the defense in a war.

CHANG: Well, OK then. A question for both of you - if we're not talking about any kind of decisive, immediate change to this war, what does all of this tell us about where the war is headed or even how it might end? Tom, do you want to start?

T BOWMAN: Well, the U.S. has said from the beginning that the goal here is to give Ukraine a better hand at any future negotiating table. But at this point, Ailsa, there's no sense from either side about talks. And the war will just go on at least into next year. Ukrainian officials talk about winning, kicking all Russian forces out. The top Pentagon officer, general C.Q. Brown, was asked recently a direct question. Can Ukraine win? He didn't use that word, instead saying the U.S. and others are giving Ukraine the tools to, quote, "defend itself."

CHANG: Interesting. Well, Joanna, what's the view from Ukraine?

KAKISSIS: Well, Ailsa, most people used to start each sentence with, after our victory. And you don't hear people talking about victory in such certain terms anymore because Ukraine is not just short of weapons. It's also short of troops. I spoke to a military analyst, Serhii Kuzan, and he says these new conscription laws that are very controversial are trying to address this shortage.

SERHII KUZAN: (Non-English language spoken).

KAKISSIS: He's saying the task is to combine conscription and recruitment so Ukraine can plan a war for years to come. Most Ukrainians - they say winning the war does mean pushing all Russian troops out of Ukrainian land. But that cannot happen without U.S. support, which the next administration might not give. And even with this support, the path will indeed take many years and cost many lives.

CHANG: That is NPR's Joanna Kakissis and Tom Bowman. Thank you to both of you.

T BOWMAN: You're welcome.

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.

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.
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.