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Ukraine military says U.S. leak shows it needs more ammunition


This week saw the arrest and arraignment of the man allegedly behind one of the worst leaks of top-secret U.S. military documents in recent years.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Charged with two counts under the Espionage Act and facing 15 years if convicted, 21-year-old Jack Teixeira had top-secret clearance as an IT specialist with the Massachusetts Air National Guard. Court records detail how prosecutors say he handled the documents, alleging he eventually took them home to photograph them.

NADWORNY: Despite revelations in the documents that the U.S. spies on allies like South Korea and Ukraine, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said today that the leak has not affected America's cooperation with its allies. To unpack that and talk about the ramifications of this leak on a global scale, we turn to NPR's Joanna Kakissis in Kyiv. Hi, Joanna.


NADWORNY: So remind us - what revelations about Ukraine are in these leaked documents?

KAKISSIS: There are details about what weapons the West has delivered to Ukraine and how the West is training Ukrainian soldiers. There are bleak assessments of the war by U.S. officials that Ukraine doesn't have enough troops or equipment or ammunition and that it won't be able to take back land in a counteroffensive sometime this spring. There's been lots of speculation that the Ukrainian troops will try to reclaim land in the south, like the occupied city of Melitopol.

NADWORNY: What's been the latest reaction by officials and kind of the consequences of the leaks where you are in Ukraine?

KAKISSIS: So those in the military and those close to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tell us that there are no major consequences and that most of the revelations in the security breach were already well known. We spoke to Yurii Ihnat, who is the spokesman for Ukraine's air force, and he actually said the publicity of these leaks have actually given Ukrainians yet another opportunity to remind their Western partners that they do need ammunition to keep their air defense working, for example. Mr. Ihnat told us what that would mean.

YURII IHNAT: (Through interpreter) We cannot lose control of our airspace to Russians. If that happens, we will have another Mariupol. We need to strengthen not only air defense systems but also use F-16 as part of the air defense. I want to assure you that when Ukraine receives F-16s, even just a few of them, that will be enough to gain air superiority.

KAKISSIS: So Mariupol, by the way, which Ihnat referenced, is a city in the south that the Russians absolutely pulverized with airstrikes at the beginning of the war, and the death and destruction was just staggering. Elissa, I should note, though, that despite the leaks and the concerns, the West is still showing very strong support for Ukraine. According to Ukraine's Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, G7 nations just promised another $5 billion in aid.

NADWORNY: So what is actually happening on the frontlines now?

KAKISSIS: So, you know, the frontlines really haven't moved since November, when Ukraine recaptured the southern city of Kherson. Most of the fighting right now is happening in the east around the absolutely devastated city of Bakhmut. That fight has been going on for a long time with heavy losses on both sides and only incremental gains by the Russians, so they are moving towards taking the city. And, you know, the counteroffensive we've talked about, it's clear the Russians are preparing for it. Satellite images show Russian troops fortifying the area around the occupied city of Melitopol and the peninsula of Crimea, which Russia occupied back in 2014.

NADWORNY: So it's Ukrainian Orthodox Easter. How are people there feeling as yet another holiday goes by and they're still at war?

KAKISSIS: So the Ukrainians like to describe themselves as unbreakable because they see no other option for themselves but getting all their territory back and being once again the whole nation they were before. And, you know, in this weekend, churches are holding these beautiful services ahead of Easter Sunday tomorrow.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing in non-English language).

KAKISSIS: Orthodox Easter is really special for Ukrainian families. You know, they decorate eggs and make Easter bread together. And so many families have lost loved ones in this war, and they've been separated by this war. And we met one of these families in a lively square in central Kyiv. Yana (ph), her husband Oleg (ph) and their young son Yaroslav (ph) recently fled the occupied city in the Zaporizhzhia region.

YANA: (Non-English language spoken).

KAKISSIS: Yana says, you know, it's their first Easter away from her mother. She's trapped in the city of Enerhodar. And, you know, the family will be scaling back celebrations this year.

YANA: (Non-English language spoken).

KAKISSIS: Next year, though, she says, she is very confident that the counteroffensive will be successful and that she will celebrate in her liberated hometown with her family reunited.

NADWORNY: That's NPR's Joanna Kakissis in Kyiv. Thanks so much, Joanna.

KAKISSIS: You're welcome, Elissa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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.