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Ukraine can now strike military targets in Russia using some Western weapons

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Ukraine can now strike military targets in Russia using Western weapons. NPR has confirmed that the United States is breaking from long-standing policy and lifting its ban on such strikes but with restrictions. NPR's Ukraine correspondent Joanna Kakissis in Kharkiv joins us now. Joanna, what does this policy change mean for Ukraine?

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: It means that Ukraine will be better able to defend itself, at least around Kharkiv, which is Ukraine's second-largest city. We've been here for the last week, and I have to say, not a day has gone by without a Russian strike somewhere in Kharkiv. Everyone here is terrified. The residents we've spoken to have told us they feel like sitting ducks, just waiting to be killed. And we spoke to Olha Pobidash (ph). She worked at a shopping center that Russia bombed a few days ago. She was inside when it happened. Nineteen people were killed. Dozens were injured there. And she says she's upset that Western allies had not helped Ukraine deter these relentless attacks from Russia.

OLHA POBIDASH: (Through interpreter) They don't feel what we feel. If they did, decisions would be made much faster. And we really need their strong hand. So we feel in our hearts that this force is with us.

KAKISSIS: And just yesterday, throughout the day and night, we heard several explosions. One came from a missile that hit an apartment building, totally destroying it.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Tiyata (ph). Tiyata.

KAKISSIS: Our team saw a very distraught man screaming a woman's name. His wife and daughter were on the fifth floor. At least five people are dead there, and more than a dozen were injured.

MARTÍNEZ: That is awful, awful to hear. Joanna, the U.S. and other allies hesitated to lift this restriction for quite some time. So what changed?

KAKISSIS: Well, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been pleading with the White House for weeks to let his forces hit military targets in Russia. Zelenskyy was already frustrated because of a six-month delay in the delivery of crucial U.S. weapons and ammunition to Ukraine. And then earlier this month, Russian troops stormed across the border toward Kharkiv in a new offensive. President Biden, however, was cautious.

The White House fears getting dragged into a direct conflict with Russia. And the Kremlin has warned that it will respond to Western weapons fired on Russian soil. But then Jens Stoltenberg, the leader of NATO, spoke in support of the Ukrainians and so did Emmanuel Macron, the president of France. That helped convince President Biden. However, the White House has made clear that Ukraine can only use the strikes with American weapons for self-defense and to protect Kharkiv.

MARTÍNEZ: So what do you think it's going to look like now on the front lines of this war? Because you're already, Joanna, in a city that's been bombed by Russia. But now, potentially...

KAKISSIS: Yeah.

MARTÍNEZ: ...There are going to be more bombs around where you are.

KAKISSIS: Well, A, some military analysts say lifting this restriction actually comes too late and is too narrowly focused. The Russians have time to step up attacks, move back the weapon systems attacking Kharkiv. And Russia is also building up troops along the border with the northern Ukrainian region of Sumy, where, you know, outnumbered Ukrainian troops must defend. Russian troops are already striking that region. But the Ukrainians cannot return fire into Russian territory there, or anywhere else for that matter.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Joanna Kakissis in Kharkiv, Ukraine. Joanna, thank you.

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.

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.
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
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