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Blinken announces more security aid to Ukraine during a surprise visit

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Kyiv today to announce more security aid to Ukraine. He was also there to signal support as Ukraine tries to push back Russian forces in the south of the country. And he used his visit to highlight the civilian toll of a war that's gone on now for more than six months. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: At a hospital in Kyiv, Secretary Blinken handed out stuffed animals to wounded children and got to meet the now-world-famous mine-sniffing dog, Patron.

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ANTONY BLINKEN: Nice to meet you. And I brought a friend with me today. I brought my friend Patron.

KELEMEN: This was Blinken's second trip to Ukraine's capital since the war began. This time, he managed to get out of government buildings to see not just the hospital but also the suburb of Irpin.

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BLINKEN: Who lived in this building?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Through interpreter) Ordinary people.

KELEMEN: Blinken saw bombed-out buildings that were destroyed in the early stages of the war, and he told reporters later it made an impression.

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BLINKEN: I was able to bear witness to horrific attacks on houses, on buildings clearly belonging to civilians where the shelling, the missiles, the bullets - it's all there. And at best, it's indiscriminate. At worst, it's intentional.

KELEMEN: His aides say this was an important time to visit Ukraine to show solidarity. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy says the U.S. is sending a strong signal of support as his country fights for, in his words, its freedom, democracy and territory. He spoke through an interpreter.

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PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY: (Through interpreter) And these are very important signals saying that United States are with us and for us. It's a guarantee of the possibility of returning our territories, our lands.

KELEMEN: Secretary Blinken arrived with a promise of more aid - $675 million for more Howitzers, HIMARS and ammunition that have been key in Ukraine's counteroffensive in the south and east of the country.

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BLINKEN: We're seeing real effectiveness on the ground. And we're proud of the fact that our support and the support of so many other countries is helping to enable what the Ukrainians are doing in working to liberate territory seized by Russia in this aggression.

KELEMEN: The Biden administration is also asking for another $2 billion from Congress for longer-term assistance not just for Ukraine but for 18 other European countries that U.S. officials say could face possible Russian aggression. Secretary Blinken heads next to NATO headquarters in Brussels and later this month will be in New York for the annual U.N. General Assembly, where Ukraine is likely to be a major theme. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.

(SOUNDBITE OF BADBADNOTGOOD'S "TIMID, INTIMIDATING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.