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President Biden makes an unannounced trip to Ukraine's capital


President Biden is on an unannounced trip to Kyiv.


The surprise visit by the U.S. president comes the week that Ukraine marks one year since Russia's large-scale invasion of the country. Here's Biden speaking in Kyiv.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Kyiv stands, and Ukraine stands. Democracy stands. The Americans stand with you, and the world stands with you.

FADEL: Now, in the past year, both sides have lost and gained territory in what many now describe as a war of attrition. Biden's visit is happening as Russia appears to be starting a new offensive.

MARTÍNEZ: For more on this visit, we turn to NPR's Frank Langfitt, who is in Kyiv. Frank, when was there a hint that he was there?

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: There were a couple of them, A. One is early this morning, there was heavy security stopping cars on the road near our hotel. And that's very unusual because Kyiv, honestly, even though this is a wartime capital, it's quite calm these days in many respects. And then later today, we saw this morning Biden strolling in the center of the city with the president, President Zelenskyy. He was in front of St. Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery. And this is one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the entire country. Those beautiful golden domes (inaudible). It's a beautiful day here. And I was out last night, and I saw that they'd actually lit it up for the first time in a long, long time. So I think that was sort of an early welcome to the president.

MARTÍNEZ: And how is this going over in Kyiv? It has to be a show of solidarity, it sounds like.

LANGFITT: Absolutely. I think that it's - you know, there was talk of another half a billion dollars, I believe, in support from the United States, additional support. But, really, this is symbolic. Just as Leila was saying, you know, this is a year into the war. This is a longer slog than certainly the United States and President Putin imagined. And it's a sign, I think, of the president to say, you know, the United States is going to continue to support Ukraine, you know, over - certainly in the next year or so.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, on the war, how would you characterize the state of it?

LANGFITT: Well, we're moving into a new phase here. As Leila was saying, it has been stagnant to a great degree in recent weeks, certainly. But they have about 150,000 Russian troops massed on the front lines right now. And I was talking to Ukrainian soldiers out in the Donbas in the east, and they said the Russians are not very motivated, not well-trained. A lot of them, of course, are prisoners. But they have a big numerical advantage. And so the Ukrainians don't feel like they can take them head on right now. I was talking to a Ukrainian sniper named Max (ph), and this is how he sees things playing out in the next few months.

MAX: (Through interpreter) Last summer, our tactic was to retreat and destroy the enemy using scorched earth tactics without sustaining big losses while dealing big losses to the enemy. My forecast is we will apply these same tactics again.

LANGFITT: And so what Max is talking about here is trying to weaken the Russian forces as much as possible and then do a counterpunch and take back as much ground as the Ukrainians can manage.

MARTÍNEZ: And how are soldiers feeling considering that year two is starting?

LANGFITT: Yeah. I mean, I think they're kind of downbeat. In talking to them, I found this really interesting. They are concerned that Russia has - and one of the commanders I talked to used the word infinite numbers of people that they can conscript and send out into battle. Ukraine is a much smaller country in terms of population. So there's a concern that over time, they could be just really outmatched in terms of numbers and really challenging for the Ukrainians.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Frank Langfitt in Kyiv. Frank, as always, thanks a lot.

LANGFITT: Hey, good to talk, A. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
A Martínez
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.
Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.