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News brief: missile strike, Biden wants more Ukraine funding, education poll

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Ukrainian officials are calling the latest attack on Kyiv a, quote, "postcard from Russia" and an insult to the United Nations.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Attacks on Ukraine's capital had mostly stopped until yesterday, and then missiles landed in the heart of the city. Now, why would that be an insult to the United Nations? While the U.N. secretary general was in the city yesterday. Antonio Guterres was trying to negotiate humanitarian corridors for civilians in a different besieged city.

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ANTONIO GUTERRES: Mariupol is a crisis within a crisis. Thousands of civilians need lifesaving assistance. Many are elderly, in need of medical care or have limited mobility. They need an escape route out of the apocalypse.

MARTINEZ: Joining us now from the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, is NPR's Frank Langfitt. Frank, let's start with the latest attacks where you're at, what's being called a postcard from Russia. What's the scene like there?

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Well, the scene, A - this is an apartment building that's over 20 stories tall, and the bottom three stories were hit by a cruise missile that came out of Crimea and knocked out the bottom - basically, the bottom of this apartment building. You can see the rebar hanging down like strands of hair. And one person was killed in the attack, and nine people were injured. And what's interesting, too, A, is this is next to a factory that makes missile parts but also makes vacuum cleaners, of all things. And it looks to me, as far as I can tell, that this missile missed the factory.

MARTINEZ: Missed the factory, OK.

LANGFITT: Yeah, as far as I can tell.

MARTINEZ: Wow.

LANGFITT: I mean, it's hard to see inside, and there does seem to be some damage inside. But as far as we can tell, this missile hit a building.

MARTINEZ: The U.N. secretary general, Frank, said he was hopeful to establish a humanitarian corridor after his meeting with the Russian president earlier this week. What message is Russia sending with this attack?

LANGFITT: Well, it's obviously at the very least, not very respectful if you have the head of the U.N. here and you're firing a missile within hours of a press conference that he gave with Volodymyr Zelenskyy. And I guess I want to point out, we are in the center of the city. This has not been a place that's been hit that hard. That said, Zelenskyy's office said that they are expecting today to get civilians out of the Azovstal steel plant. There are about a thousand civilians living in a basement. It's really a 15-mile maze of bunkers and tunnels. And our colleague Joanna Kakissis has actually been in touch with a soldier in the basement there who said there were airstrikes yesterday. A makeshift hospital could not keep up. There are 500 wounded fighters, very little food, water or medicine. Of course, with these humanitarian corridors, as we found, the challenge is the Russians may sometimes agree but then actually end up attacking those corridors.

MARTINEZ: You know, we've been doing this for three months now. That's where we're at in this point. And you've been talking to military experts in Ukraine and elsewhere in your travels in Europe. How do they see this all playing out in the coming months?

LANGFITT: Yeah, it's a really good question. Basically, they see the Russians making a big push in the east, in the Donbas region, as we've been talking about, try to take control of much of the south and try to hold what people see as sham referenda to basically argue that these territories that they're taking are no longer a part of Ukraine but independent or pro-Russian, get as much territory as possible, effectively, to take what has been a failed military operation up until now, show it back home as some kind of a victory. Now, Ukrainians, of course, they're going to use all these huge armaments that they're getting from the U.S. and NATO allies to hold as much ground as possible. Nobody expects a negotiated solution any time soon. I was talking to Oleg Ignatov. He's with the International Crisis Group. This is how he put it.

OLEG IGNATOV: They don't know how to stop this war right now because both sides still hope that they can or will be able to win this war.

LANGFITT: And of course, there are going to be more and more weapons coming, perhaps for years, from NATO.

MARTINEZ: That's NPR's Frank Langfitt in Ukraine's capital city of Kyiv. Frank, thank you.

LANGFITT: Good to talk, A.

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MARTINEZ: All right, President Biden is urging lawmakers to send more money to Ukraine.

INSKEEP: He'd like the United States to send $33 billion on top of billions already sent.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: So we need to contribute arms, funding, ammunition and the economic support to make their courage and sacrifice have purpose, so they can continue this fight and do what they're doing. It's critical this funding gets approved and approved as quickly as possible.

INSKEEP: Just by way of comparison, the entire annual Russian military budget, the budget for all of Russia, is thought to be around $65 billion. If Biden's request is approved, the United States will have sent a total of 47 billion to Ukraine in just a few months.

MARTINEZ: NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid has been following this development. The president has asked for $33 billion. What does that include?

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Well, a bulk of it, roughly $20 billion, is security assistance. That includes things like ammunition, armored vehicles and unmanned aircraft systems. Some of the money is also geared toward helping clear landmines and other explosive remnants that Russians have left behind. Most of the remaining $13 billion is going to be divided up between economic assistance and humanitarian assistance - you know, things like medical equipment and safe drinking water.

MARTINEZ: All right, so President Biden has now settled on what he thinks is needed. What's been the response so far?

KHALID: You know, well, ultimately Congress has to agree to these funds. Our colleague Kelsey Snell, who covers Congress, says her initial read from Senate Republicans is that they are not, in theory, opposed to the dollar amount, but they do have some questions. Senator Joni Ernst from Iowa is one of those Republicans.

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JONI ERNST: General top line is important, but I want to know the devil in the details. We have to make sure we are providing them what they are asking for, what they actually need and can use.

KHALID: You know, broadly, I will say, to date, there seems to be bipartisan support in Congress for Ukraine, but it does seem like any final bill will take some negotiation, and Kelsey tells me that could take some weeks.

MARTINEZ: All right, so $33 billion sounds like a lot, but in the big picture, is that enough money for Ukraine?

KHALID: You know, the White House anticipates that this money, the $33 billion, could last Ukraine about five months. But, you know, to your question - is it enough? - experts I spoke with said it's really hard to tell. It depends in part how the war plays out. Liam Collins is a retired U.S. Army colonel who helped advise Ukraine's Defense Department from 2016 to 2018.

LIAM COLLINS: I think the U.S. has done a pretty good job of helping out Ukraine in terms of what they need. The pace of support has been sufficient. But it's going to need to - you know, it's going to need to go on for a long time, and people shouldn't get tired after a couple months.

KHALID: You know, as you heard him say, nobody really knows how long this conflict could go on - months, possibly even years. And a key question is whether there will continue to be bipartisan support from the American public. Experts also tell me, you know, there is a sense of urgency. If negotiations in Congress take weeks, that could prove perilous for Ukraine. I did ask the administration if there's any way to, say, provide a line of credit, move some of this money to Ukraine ASAP and then pay it back. I was told that's not an option. Congress does need to approve these funds in order to keep aid flowing to Ukraine. I will say, you know, I expect us to hear more about this next week. The president is traveling to Alabama to visit a Lockheed Martin plant that makes Javelins, and I'm sure that this is going to be part of his pitch.

MARTINEZ: NPR's Asma Khalid. Thanks a lot.

KHALID: Happy to do it.

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MARTINEZ: The stories that put schools in the news may not reflect the concerns of parents with kids in school.

INSKEEP: A lot of discussion about schools centers on culture war political issues, like teaching racism or discussing gender. But a national poll by NPR and Ipsos out today finds that those issues are not the main concerns for most parents of school-age kids. A large majority of parents reported being happy with their children's schools and what's being taught there.

MARTINEZ: Anya Kamenetz from NPR's Education desk is here to tell us all about the results. So what are parents saying about schools?

ANYA KAMENETZ, BYLINE: Yeah, so this poll follows up on one that NPR commissioned a year ago from Ipsos about how the pandemic is continuing to affect the nation's students. And we found some real bright spots, as we keep coming back from the worst of the pandemic, and there's also a few curveballs here. So on the good side, compared to 2021, more parents are saying their child is ahead in school, and fewer say they're behind, and that's true whether we asked about math, reading or social skills, mental health and development. In fact, a growing number, almost half of parents agree with the statement - the pandemic has not disrupted my child's education at all.

MARTINEZ: So that sounds really encouraging, though is there any truth to that?

KAMENETZ: You know, I should say that this rosy view is a bit at odds with what we know from test scores and attendance. A lot of children do have learning to catch up on. Still, this kind of thinking is in line with a whole lot of polling that goes back decades. Parents do tend to express concern about education as an abstract issue, but when you zoom in closer, they're happy with their own kids' school and, even more so, their kids' teachers. So in our poll, 88% said, my kids' teachers did the best they could during the pandemic, given the circumstances. And more than 4 out of 5 said, my kids' school has actually handled the pandemic well.

MARTINEZ: Wow. Now, Republican governors like Ron DeSantis of Florida, Glenn Youngkin in Virginia, they've turned parents' rights into a major political talking point. Did your poll find a lot of interest in that?

KAMENETZ: Not really, no. So more than three-quarters of respondents agreed - my child's school does a good job keeping me informed about the curriculum, including potentially controversial topics. We asked about gender and sexuality, race, U.S. history, patriotism, and in each of those cases, it was fewer than 1 in 5 parents who told us, yeah, I'm concerned; the school's teaching these topics in a way that is not consistent with my family's values. And a much larger group, about 1 in 3 in each case said they didn't know. In other words, maybe not a lot of detailed conversations going on about this at the dinner table.

MARTINEZ: What about the partisan divides? I mean, are these controversies something that Republican parents maybe are particularly concerned about?

KAMENETZ: So we did hear from parents like Christine in Wisconsin. She asked not to use her last name because she says she's afraid of her children being retaliated against.

CHRISTINE: You know, there have been snarky comments about white privilege.

KAMENETZ: She also doesn't approve of her son, who's in high school, being asked things like...

CHRISTINE: What pronouns do you prefer to use to refer to yourself?

KAMENETZ: But the fact is - and the pollsters were surprised by this - there were actually few partisan divides in our poll. Most parents are satisfied, most feel well-informed. And the small group of parents who were unhappy with how their school's tackling racism and U.S. history, those were just as likely to identify as Democrats as Republicans. In other words, for every parent who thinks their child's school is too, quote, unquote, "woke," there may be one who thinks it isn't woke enough.

JIM ONDELACY: They kind of whitewash the way that history is taught to their kids.

KAMENETZ: So that's Jim Ondelacy. He's a Native American and a Democrat who lives near Fort Worth, Texas. And he is one who wishes his son's high school went more in depth and taught more about the nation's history of racism and oppression.

MARTINEZ: NPR's Anya Kamenetz. Thanks a lot.

KAMENETZ: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.