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Hungary ends opposition to giving Ukraine aid, freeing up $54 billion from the EU

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The European Union finally approved a $54 billion package of long-term aid to Ukraine today. A single EU nation, Hungary, had been blocking it for weeks. Multiyear aid from European neighbors would be a lifeline for Ukraine. Meanwhile, U.S. aid to the country is stuck in Congress. NPR's Joanna Kakissis reports from Kyiv.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: When EU leaders showed up in Brussels this morning, they were expecting a long day. EU decisions require unanimous approval of its 27 member nations. Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban had blocked aid to Ukraine back in December, and even after EU leaders spent weeks bargaining with Orban, it wasn't clear that the Hungarian leader had changed his mind. Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk told reporters that the European Union has, quote, "Orban fatigue."

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PRIME MINISTER DONALD TUSK: What we need today is to strengthen our unity around Ukraine, and I can't understand - I can't accept this very strange and very egoistic game of Viktor Orban.

KAKISSIS: Orban is friendly with the Kremlin. He has said Ukraine is corrupt and does not deserve EU support. He reportedly demanded an annual review of EU money to Ukraine and the right to veto it. European Union leaders agreed to additional budgetary reviews, but not anything else. And after the leaders of Germany, France and Italy pressed Orban, he finally relented. After the vote, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked EU leaders via video link from Kyiv.

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PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY: This is a clear signal that Ukraine will withstand and that Europe will withstand. It is also really important that this decision was taken unanimously by all 27 member states, and it is yet another clear sign of your strong unity and support of Ukraine.

KAKISSIS: But Zelenskyy also appealed to the EU to speed up promised military aid, especially ammunition, which Ukraine badly needs to defend itself on the front line and strike down Russian missiles shot almost daily at Ukrainian cities. Zelenskyy pointed out that North Korea is sending Russia 1 million artillery shells.

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ZELENSKYY: Meanwhile, unfortunately, the implementation of the European plan to supply 1 million artillery shells to Ukraine is being delayed. This, too, is a signal of global competition in which Europe cannot afford to lose.

KAKISSIS: Ukrainian lawmaker Oleksandra Ustinova leads Parliament's special committee on arms procurement. She explains that the problem with securing munitions isn't a lack of money, but a lack of supply around the world.

OLEKSANDRA USTINOVA: Unfortunately, Russia is the only country in the world who managed to ramp up their production lines. They managed to increase the number of the missiles they are producing by three times.

KAKISSIS: She says the EU, by comparison, has only doubled its production, and that's why aid from the United States is so crucial. Ustinova is now in Washington, trying to convince congressional Republicans to support her country.

USTINOVA: Ukraine became a hostage of the internal politics of the United States, and literally the life of a 40-million-people country depend on whether the issue on the border will be solved or not.

KAKISSIS: She's referring to the U.S. border with Mexico. Republicans are tying more Ukraine aid to U.S. immigration reform. It's become an election issue. Ustinova says Ukrainians are following the domestic politics of their country's allies closely as Russia's full-scale war on Ukraine enters its third year. She says that Ukrainians know that without their Western allies, Ukraine will lose this war.

Joanna Kakissis, NPR News, Kyiv.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) 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 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.