In This Episode
- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed U.S. Congress on Wednesday to ask for a number of things including a no-fly-zone over his country. The Biden administration did not agree to that request, but it did announce $800 million in military aid to Ukraine including anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles, drones, and more. Christopher Miller, a correspondent for BuzzFeed News currently in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, joins us to discuss what things look like on the ground.
- And in headlines: The Federal Reserve bumped up a key interest rate by 0.25 percent, a 7.4 magnitude earthquake rocked eastern Japan, and nearly 23,000 mail votes were thrown out in the Texas primary election.
- Christopher Miller on Twitter – https://twitter.com/ChristopherJM
- “This Ukrainian Mother Buried Both Of Her Sons Just Six Days Apart” by Christoper Miller – https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/christopherm51/ukraine-brothers-killed-same-family
Follow us on Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/whataday/
Gideon Resnick: It is Thursday, March 17th. I’m Gideon Resnick.
Priyanka Aribindi: And I’m Priyanka Aribindi, and this is What A Day, where we are wearing green for St. Patrick’s Day, but also because our intervals between doing laundry have gotten a lot longer during the pandemic.
Gideon Resnick: Yes, some of my clothes have taken on a green hue, and for me, that just makes me more respectful of this holiday.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, it feels great to admit this to all of you who can’t see us right now.
Gideon Resnick: On today’s show, the Federal Reserve tackles rising inflation by hiking up interest rates. Plus, Texas threw out a record 23,000 mail-in ballots from the primary.
Priyanka Aribindi: But first, let’s go in-depth on the Russia-Ukraine war. Yesterday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the U.S. Congress, asking for a number of things, including a no-fly zone over the country. Here is part of what he said through a translator:
[translator for Volodymyr Zelensky] Right now, the destiny of our country is being decided, the destiny of our people, whether Ukrainians will be free, whether they will be able to preserve their democracy.
Priyanka Aribindi: The Biden administration didn’t agree to the no-fly zone request, but it did announce $800 million in military aid to Ukraine, including anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles, drones, and more. Additionally, while Biden was leading an unrelated event, a reporter asked if he would consider Putin a war criminal. He first said no, but then went back and said this:
[clip of President Biden] I think his is a war criminal.
Gideon Resnick: Such an interesting inflection on going back and saying it again.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. Like, Actually, like . . .
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. So as for some of what happened on the ground in Ukraine as of our recording at 9:30 Eastern Wednesday night, Ukrainian officials said yesterday that a Russian airstrike hit a theater in Mariupol, where hundreds of residents had been seeking shelter in the past few days. That’s actually not what Biden was being asked about in that exchange. One detail about that: The New York Times reviewed satellite imagery showing the word “children” had been written in Russian in the front and back of the building around Saturday. We are still awaiting more details on that entire situation. Also, a follow-up to a story that we shared this week where Russian forces abducted the mayor of the city of Melitopol and replaced him with a pro-Putin mayor. The Ukrainian officials said yesterday that they were able to free the mayor in exchange for nine captured Russian soldiers. So for more updates on the ground, we spoke with Christopher Miller, a correspondent for BuzzFeed News, who is currently in the western city of Lviv, and he started with this compelling account of what it’s like to be there right now:
Christopher Miller: Compared to much of the rest of the country, there is a sense of relative normalcy. This evening, myself and a group of journalists went out and had dinner at a burger bar in Central Lviv, which is, I think, only the second time in a little over three weeks that I’ve eaten out at a restaurant because around much of the rest of the country and in Kiev, restaurants are closed. Here in Lviv, it’s become this um, well thought to be safe place. A place of sanctuary for Ukrainians around the country whose cities have been attacked or worse, besieged. The center of the city has been untouched so far. But air raid sirens sound a few times a day, at least. I’ve heard them just once today, but they rang three times before midday yesterday and during a funeral service, which is a really jarring experience, hearing these priests and mourners singing while air raid sirens and warnings over loudspeakers blasted throughout the city, telling people or warning people rather, to get indoors, to get underground if possible. It’s been difficult to sort of wrap my head around. I’ve lived and worked in this country since 2010, and, you know, even in the past eight years, while Ukraine has been at war, it’s been predominantly in the east of the country. But now, you know, Russian missiles are falling just about everywhere.
Priyanka Aribindi: It seemed as though there was a sentiment in Lviv that it would be safer for a little while longer super west in the country. But Russia hit a military base close to the Polish border on Sunday. So how is that affecting, you know, how it’s feeling where you are, and what are you hearing from the people who you’re around?
Christopher Miller: Yeah, that really brought the war home for a lot of people here. This military base was an international security and peacekeeping center where NATO forces had been present for several years. Just last month, I visited and saw the Florida National Guard training Ukrainian soldiers on bunker buster missiles.
Priyanka Aribindi: Wow.
Christopher Miller: And it was only, you know, days after that that the U.S. ordered them to withdraw. And a lot of the Ukrainians that were there, that were injured or killed, are from this region or from this city of Lviv. And you know, yesterday I went to a funeral for four of the Ukrainian soldiers who were killed in that attack and followed one of the families back to their home village and met this family that hadn’t even finished grieving the death of their youngest son, who was killed in southern Mykolaiv region on March 3rd and buried on March 9th, when they had to bury his older brother yesterday, who was killed in the Yavoriv attack. And it was a really, really emotional ceremony. And you could see on the faces of people that they were very, very, very worried.
Gideon Resnick: It’s really horrific to hear about. And for people that have made their way from other parts of the country over to Lviv is there a sense that they want to stay there for now? Do they want to try to make a movement to somewhere else? What’s the sentiment around that?
Christopher Miller: I think according to the United Nations, we’ve seen three million people flee the country.
Gideon Resnick: Right.
Christopher Miller: Which I mean is the largest mass migration of people, I think, since the Second World War. That’s a huge number of people in a very short window of time. There are people who are not prepared to leave the country, whether it is a level of defiance, not wanting to leave, wanting to in some way stand their ground if not at their home in Kiev, then at least on Ukrainian soil. Or people who can’t afford to leave the country. The European Union is very expensive for a lot of people, and a lot of people don’t want to live like refugees. And also where they can be useful, you know, making netting to cover a frontline position to better hide it from the enemy or cooking in the kitchen to serve food that can be transported to the soldiers in one way or another. You know, it seems like almost everyone is doing their part.
Priyanka Aribindi: There is reporting yesterday that there are Ukrainian counter offensives beginning in Kiev and Kherson. What have you been hearing about that? And then what is the significance of those kind of starting?
Christopher Miller: I was in Kiev just a few days ago and in the captured town, now, of Irpin and what the Ukrainian soldiers there told me it was that the Russians were running out of artillery. They didn’t expect to have such a drawn-out war. They thought they would be able to win this fight in a matter of days, a week at most. And so what we’re seeing is, according to the Ukrainian military, resupplying and more logistical efforts to prolong this fight. And you know, these counter offensives are an attempt on the Ukrainian side to push Russian forces further away from the strategic points of entry into Kiev and into other cities like Odessa, for example. You know, there is a really high morale right now, which is another big part of it. The Ukrainians want to go on this counteroffensive. They’re in very high spirits. They’re very confident about their abilities. They have a stockpile of weapons that they’re ready to use. Anecdotally, I was in Kiev and stopped by a couple of restaurants to see some friends and some sources, and I walked into one kitchen that had stopped serving food and had begun stocking British NLAW anti-tank systems. So there are a lot of them just sitting around the capital waiting for tanks to roll in, or, now, moving further out on the outskirts of the city in order to use them in order to beat back Russian armor.
Gideon Resnick: Where did the stuff that was supposed to be in the kitchen actually go when they had swapped that out?
Christopher Miller: So a lot of restaurants, high end restaurants have turned their once swanky fine dining establishments and kitchens into essentially food courts or food halls for soldiers, medics on the front line who are either able to come and pick it up from there, or the food is being delivered to places along the front line or bomb shelters, hospitals, children hospitals for example. There were, I think, we went to three or four different restaurants that were some of the best in the city and places I frequented that have now all moved to humanitarian efforts. And you know, the first things that went from these kitchens were all the perishable items. And then, you know, now they’re using, they’re pulling stuff from their large refrigerators and freezers, and it’s all going out to feed and power the defense. There is this really famous Ukrainian chef named Ievgen Klopotenko, and he’s kind of like the Gordon Ramsay of Ukraine. And he said, I was talking to him about how he’s turned in his kitchen into this center to feed the troops. And he said, you know, peeling a potato in war is just as important as pulling a trigger, the soldiers need to stay fueled and they can’t fight hungry. And so, you know, they look at themselves as soldiers or, you know, Ukrainians that are that are also very much on the frontline.
Gideon Resnick: That’s amazing. I want to go back to stuff that’s been going on in the last 24 hours. One of the things that President Zelensky was emphasizing in his address to Congress on Wednesday, asking for more help. One of the bigger asks, though, was for this no-fly zone. Can you talk about why that is and why there is reticence to create it?
Christopher Miller: The Ukrainians want a no-fly zone because the Russian Air Force has used airstrikes to devastating degree. Russian planes buzz over top of Kiev and, you know, pretty much everywhere else across the country all the time. That’s why we’re hearing these air raid sirens. You know, one of the scary things is when you hear these sirens, you don’t know exactly where the bombs are going to fall, and so everyone scatters, you know? Closing the skies in the minds of Ukrainians would mean aerial assaults stopping and the war moving to more of a ground game. And that is where the Ukrainians feel they’re at their strongest. What we have seen over the last few weeks is Russia has really underestimated the strength of the Ukrainian army, the number of people willing to take up arms and come out and fight. You know, I think Putin had in his mind that the Ukrainian army was something that still resembled what it was in 2014, which is not the case. There is great concern in Washington that closing the skies wouldn’t mean Russia leaving them, but rather flying in them and provoking an attack by NATO that could in turn spark a World War 3-type scenario.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, and in addition to the no-fly zone part of this, what did you make of the rest of Biden’s response?
Christopher Miller: You know, as somebody who’s seen, you know, how the military has performed on the ground here and knowing very well what Ukraine needs, I think Ukraine is going to be pleased by the ammunition that they’re going to get, the drones that they’re going to get, anti-armor weaponry and air defense systems, apparently. And you know, that’s one of the really big asks. The Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba who is somebody I know well and I’ve interviewed several times since December has told me that they’ve been begging and pleading for air defense systems for months, and they really wish they would have had them before the invasion kicked off. Then there might not be this urgent demand to close the skies.
Priyanka Aribindi: Right.
Gideon Resnick: There are also continued talks between representatives for Russia and Ukraine. Russia’s foreign minister was, you know, voicing some optimism. There was even this draft proposal that was being reported by The Financial Times. What do you make of all of that and what could the contours of an agreement end up looking like?
Christopher Miller: I think it depends on if you speak to the Russians versus if you speak to the Ukrainians. The response just a couple of hours or less after that from the Ukrainian presidential administration was, The Financial Times story shows what are the Russian positions and ours are not necessarily the same things. And this is an adviser of President Zelensky that tweeted this in Russian, Ukrainian, and English, and essentially said, You know, for us, the big things are a cease fire. Which is part of this discussion, but there are many things that the Ukrainian side demands that are not in The Financial Times reporting, and those things are still being ironed out. You know, essentially what the Ukrainians want is is not anything that would be perceived as capitulating to Moscow. I think, you know, where we’re seeing some agreement is on Ukraine possibly agreeing to a neutral status, not aspiring to join NATO. One of the differences could end up being this Russian language issue. Right now, Russian language is not an official language in Ukraine. There is just one and that is Ukrainian. But, you know, I think the Russian proposal and what The Financial Times had reported is that was something that the Russians were pushing for. And I’m not sure the Ukrainians would want to do that, although in the grand scheme of things that might be one of the easier things to agree upon, rather than, say, the acceptance of Crimea as a part of Russia.
Priyanka Aribindi: Right.
Christopher Miller: So, you know, I don’t think the sides are ready to put their names on the dotted line and say, we, you know, we’ve agreed to all of this and let’s end this war. There’s still going to be quite a bit of negotiating. And I think it’s also important to note Putin’s speech today, which was again, very inflammatory. And, you know, I don’t think we should be so willing or prepared to believe what Russia’s Foreign Ministry or the Kremlin says until Russian troops have left the territory of Ukraine.
Priyanka Aribindi: That was our chat yesterday with Christopher Miller, a correspondent for BuzzFeed News currently in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv. We’ll include a link to Christopher’s most recent story that he was referencing in the interview, as well as his Twitter, where you can follow all of his work, in our show notes. That is the latest for now. We will be back after some ads.
Priyanka Aribindi: [ad break]
Priyanka Aribindi: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.
Gideon Resnick: The Federal Reserve bumped up a key interest rate by a quarter of a percent yesterday, and it says that six more hikes will come this year as well—yikes.
Priyanka Aribindi: Feels like a lot.
Gideon Resnick: Yes. The move is aimed at slowing down inflation, which is at a 40-year high. As much as we all love being mad every time we go to the grocery store, it would be nice for prices to stop being so surprising. So here is your Econ 101 explanation of how the interest hike is supposed to work—I’m sure I will get part of this wrong. If interest rates are higher, that makes loans across the board more expensive so that means that some people or businesses might hold off on taking loans out. Then, without that extra cash to spend, people might buy less. That, in turn, leads to a lower demand for goods, and so the inflated price of those goods might come down or at least stop going up as fast as it is now. It has been four years since the Federal Reserve raised the interest rate and the rates been at near zero since March 2020 at the start of the pandemic. But don’t expect this new hike to pop ballooning inflation right away. The Fed is estimating that it’s going to take more than a year for its tactics to finally slow things down to a level it believes is more manageable.
Priyanka Aribindi: A 7.4 magnitude earthquake hit eastern Japan last night, killing at least four people and injuring at least 97 others. The shakes caused a loss of power to over 2.2 million homes, as well as two small tsunami waves, and the extent of the damage remains unclear. This region is no stranger to these kinds of disasters, sadly. Back in 2011, a 9.1 magnitude earthquake in the same region resulted in a devastating tsunami. Over 22,000 people died or went missing after that disaster, and it caused a nuclear reactor meltdown. Residents waited hours after this quake to see if the same would happen once again, but it’s looking like that will not be the case. Japan’s meteorological agency did originally issue tsunami advisories for the Fukushima and Miyagi provinces, but earlier this morning they were canceled.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, really scary. The hunt for the mythic, never-before-seen creature known as “voter fraud” has led nearly 23,000 mail-in votes to be thrown out in the Texas primary election.
Priyanka Aribindi: Whoooh.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, that is 13% of mail votes cast across 187 counties, according to a new analysis by The Associated Press. This data shows that the unusually high rejection rate is a direct result of the state’s new GOP-backed voter restriction laws. According to Texas election officials, most of the rejected ballots did not meet the state’s new ID requirements passed last year. That is probably because those requirements are insanely confusing. Under the new law, mail voters must include a personal identification number on their ballots, such as their Social Security number or their driver’s license number. So that may sound easy enough, but the number that you provide also has to match your voter registration record that you probably filed years ago. And then there’s more on top of that. The field where you enter that number on your mail ballot was underneath the envelope flap, making it really easy to miss—there is intentionality here. These findings in Texas have serious implications for the democratic process as we head further into the midterms. At least 17 other states will host primary elections this year under tougher election laws adopted after the 2020 presidential election.
Priyanka Aribindi: We report on these types of stories pretty frequently. This should be a thing that angers and incenses and like outrages every person that listens to this podcast. This is extremely unfair and terrifying that this is happening at this point—
Gideon Resnick: Yes.
Priyanka Aribindi: —in our country. Staying in Texas, the place known for its large size and the large holes in the brains of its conservative lawmakers, the state’s National Butterfly Center partially reopened on Monday after a series of attacks from right-wing conspiracy theorists, both in-person and online. The center is located along the Texas-Mexico border, and it had to close its doors last month amid baseless accusations of sex trafficking, which led to gun toting Alt-righters showing up at its doorstep.
Gideon Resnick: Yikes.
Priyanka Aribindi: It’s hard to imagine what if they could possibly have with a butterfly conservatory, a place that seems to transcend politics and simply asks the question, Do you want to see some beautiful bugs? But it all started back in 2019, when then Trump adviser Steve Bannon joined forces with some right wingers to form “We Build the Wall,” a crowdfunding platform made with the express purpose of illegally building segments of Trump’s border wall using a private money. Bannon and friends decided to build a section right next to the center, and the conservatory sued to get them to stop. We Built a Wall, retaliated by spreading conspiracy theories online that the butterfly sanctuary was a cover up for Mexican drug cartels smuggling people across the border—how do they come up with this stuff? Some call it ButterflyGate, and it became so widespread that armed militia members showed up at the center in January and threatened its staff. Thankfully, tensions have died down since then, and the conservatory reopened its doors to members only, for now, pending any other right-wing attacks.
Gideon Resnick: All of the people who spread rumors about this place and its beautiful butterflies should have to go and work a shift where they preserve the little sanctuary areas where the butterflies are. That’s just my proposal.
Priyanka Aribindi: No! Oh my God, they do not deserve to be with a beautiful butterflies. Absolutely not. The butterflies are treasures, and these people are trash.
Gideon Resnick: We have a difference in opinion that we will resolve off-line. And those are the headlines. That is all for today. If you like to show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, look at a gorgeous bug, and tell your friends to listen.
Priyanka Aribindi: And if you’re into reading, and not just your Econ 101 textbook like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Priyanka Aribindi.
Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.
[together] And your green outfit looks good.
Gideon Resnick: Sure. Just like the Chicago River.
Priyanka Aribindi: It’s a tough color to pull off, but you know what?
Gideon Resnick: You’re killing it.
Priyanka Aribindi: You guys are doing it. I can tell.
Gideon Resnick: We can see all of you as you listen. Surprise.
Priyanka Aribindi: And we appreciate the spirit.
Gideon Resnick: We do. What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzi Marine and Raven Yamamoto are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran and me, Gideon Resnick. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.