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Some Ukrainians fear that war in the Middle East would distract from their plight

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The war between Israel and Hamas complicates the situation in Ukraine. Ukrainians say they strongly support Israel and claim Russia is supporting the militant group Hamas. But they're also concerned that the conflict in the Middle East might distract their allies and leave Ukraine vulnerable. NPR's Joanna Kakissis reports from Ukraine.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Lesia Shelest lives in a village outside Kyiv which was almost reached by Russian invaders in 2022. She says Ukraine's Western allies supported her country's soldiers as they fought back. Now these allies are focused on another war - in Israel and Gaza.

LESIA SHELEST: (Speaking Ukrainian).

KAKISSIS: "Of course we're afraid," she says. "And it's not only me. Everyone is afraid," including another local, Tetiana Kovalchuk, who says Ukraine cannot keep defending itself without resources from the West.

TETIANA KOVALCHUK: (Through interpreter) Those resources aren't limitless, and our own human resources also aren't limitless.

KAKISSIS: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy insists that support from the U.S. is stronger than ever. In a video posted to social media, Zelenskyy said that he spoke to President Biden just before Biden asked Congress for more than $100 billion to arm Ukraine and Israel.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY: (Through interpreter) There is unity in our country and unity with our partners, especially America.

KAKISSIS: Zelenskyy has strongly backed Israel and compares the militant group Hamas to Russia. He says both are terrorists.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

KAKISSIS: It's a common opinion in Ukraine. At a cafe near parliament in Kyiv, I meet Lisa Yasko, a lawmaker with Zelensky's Servant of the People party. She believes Russia is funding Hamas.

LISA YASKO: This is what we are trying to be very loud about, that Russia is spending so much resources on armed people around all the world to create dangers inside the societies.

KAKISSIS: But she also acknowledges that many countries, especially in the Global South, don't see this. Instead, they see Ukraine's Western allies as the problem - for ignoring the plight of Palestinians. Lana Zerkal, a Ukrainian diplomat and former deputy foreign minister, disagrees with this view.

LANA ZERKAL: A lot of Ukrainians understand that Palestinians, they did not start this war, but they're, rather, victims of this war, the main victims of this war.

KAKISSIS: More than 200 Ukrainian citizens live in Gaza, where near-constant bombings in the last couple of weeks have killed thousands of Palestinians. But Zerkal says the murders of Israeli families by Hamas militants remind her of the worst Russian atrocities in Ukraine.

ZERKAL: Because definitely this horrible pictures from Israel, they reminded very much Bucha and Mariupol and other places where Ukrainians suffered. And despite the fact that it happened in Israel, we felt this pain as ours.

KAKISSIS: And the pain of war, the one at home, is still raw here, especially in the northeastern city of Kharkiv. It's near the Russian border and often attacked.

OLENA FEDOROVA: (Non-English language spoken).

KAKISSIS: Schoolteacher Olena Fedorova is riding a bus with her second graders. "They asked me about this new war," she says, "and what it means." "And like the rest of us," she adds, "they wonder what it means for the war at home."

Joanna Kakissis, NPR News, reporting from Kyiv and Kharkiv. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Joanna Kakissis
Joanna Kakissis is an international correspondent based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she leads NPR's bureau and coverage of a conflict that has upended millions of lives, affected global energy and food supplies and pitted NATO against Russia.