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Secretary of State Blinken offers big aid package on unannounced visit to Ukraine

US' Secretary of State Antony Blinken talks with Marina, 6, from Kherson region, during his visit to a children's hospital in Kyiv Thursday.
GENYA SAVILOV
/
POOL/AFP via Getty Images
US' Secretary of State Antony Blinken talks with Marina, 6, from Kherson region, during his visit to a children's hospital in Kyiv Thursday.

Updated September 8, 2022 at 11:16 AM ET

KYIV, Ukraine — Secretary of State Antony Blinken made an unannounced trip to Kyiv on Thursday, where he announced almost $3 billion worth of financial aid and weapons to help Ukraine and its neighbors during the Russia invasion.

"Ukraine's extraordinary front-line defenders continue to courageously fight for their country's freedom," Blinken said in a statement Thursday afternoon announcing the new tranche of funding. "And President Biden has been clear we will support the people of Ukraine for as long as it takes."

He said the administration will make $2.2 billion available for long-term investments "to bolster the security of Ukraine and 18 of its neighbors," many of which are NATO allies that face the risk of potential future Russian aggression.

That amount comes atop $675 million in military aid to include more High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), as well as more munitions and armored vehicles, according to the State Department. This sum was also announced earlier Thursday by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who is in Germany at a meeting with defense counterparts from around the world.

The combined funding announced Thursday — over $2.87 billion — will bring the total security assistance to Ukraine since Russia launched its full-scale ground invasion on Feb. 24 to $13.5 billion.

During a press briefing after Blinken met with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Ukrainian leader thanked the Biden administration for its support, which sends "very important signals."

"Saying that United States are with us and for us, it's a guarantee of every possibility of returning our territories, our lands," Zelenskyy said.

This is Blinken's second trip to the Ukrainian capital since this year's conflict began in February. He is the highest-ranking official in the Biden administration to visit the country in over six months of conflict.

After arriving in Kyiv early Thursday, Blinken met with U.S. Embassy staff and visited Ohmatdyt children's hospital, where he met with doctors, children who had come from eastern Ukraine and "Patron" the famous bomb-sniffing dog.

In the afternoon, Blinken also met with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. The secretary of state also toured Irpin, a city north of Kyiv that was heavily shelled during Russia's march toward Kyiv in the early days of the conflict and was under occupation for nearly a month. There he toured around still-damaged buildings and debris by Irpin Deputy Mayor Dmytro Nehresha.

Blinken's trip, six months into the conflict, is meant to show that the U.S. is "fully committed to Ukraine," according to State Department officials.

His trip to Ukraine comes at a crucial time.

Concerns continue to mount over the safety and security of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which has been occupied by Russian forces since March but operated by Ukrainian staff.

A report released this week by the International Atomic Energy Agency revealed that shelling has compromised the physical integrity of the plant and that working conditions for the staff are tenuous, among other findings that experts say could lead to human error and, potentially, a nuclear disaster.

Both the Biden administration and the United Nations have called on the Russians to demilitarize the complex.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainians are engaged in a counteroffensive in the east and southern part of the country — one that Kyiv says is going successfully, albeit slowly.

Meanwhile, Blinken's aides say he is also gearing up for the United Nations General Assembly, which takes place later this month. Russia's war in Ukraine and the ripple effects in global food and energy markets are set to be major themes this year.

Since the start of Russia's invasion in February, the U.S. has promised billions of dollars in military and budgetary aid to Ukraine, including a $40 billion aid package passed by Congress in May. Millions of aid has already been dispersed. At the six-month mark of the conflict, polling showed that a majority of Americans believe the U.S. should continue to support Ukraine in the war.

Michele Kelemen contributed reporting from Washington, D.C.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ashley Westerman is a producer who occasionally directs the show. Since joining the staff in June 2015, she has produced a variety of stories including a coal mine closing near her hometown, the 2016 Republican National Convention, and the Rohingya refugee crisis in southern Bangladesh. She is also an occasional reporter for Morning Edition, and NPR.org, where she has contributed reports on both domestic and international news.