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News brief: War crimes in Ukraine, Blinken in Brussels, Oklahoma abortion bill

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

The Biden administration is planning to announce new sanctions on Russia today in response to the gruesome scenes of alleged war crimes in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

This latest round of sanctions aims to put even more pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin by going after Russian officials and their families. He will also ban all new investments in Russia. The European Commission is also considering further sanctions in response to the shocking images of burned and otherwise mutilated corpses. Russia denies its troops committed any crimes and calls the reports from Bucha fake and the scenes staged.

MARTINEZ: With us now is NPR's Nathan Rott, who's just back from Bucha. Nathan, what did you see there? And just a warning for listeners 'cause I'd imagine that what you're about to tell us is going to be pretty disturbing.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Unfortunately, yeah. So we visited three different parts of Bucha yesterday. None of them, I should say, right now appeared staged or fake in any way. One of the places we went was a street that was littered with burnt military transports, bullet casings, torn metal. It was in a residential area. Every home there was either destroyed or severely damaged. I was told by a resident there that multiple people, civilians, had died on that street. And we actually saw that in another location. Ukrainian police had found a pile of six bodies earlier this week - four women, two men - who had been killed by gunshots and then burnt. And we watched as they moved those badly burnt bodies into bags.

MARTINEZ: Wow. You also had a chance to talk to some of the people still there, and I can imagine those stories are probably pretty grim.

ROTT: Yeah. The first street we visited, I talked to a man who had a horrifying story. He said three Russians had come out and - asked him to come out of his house with his daughter and her husband. And they were asking about Nazis. Where are the Nazis, they said. He said there were none. But they took his son-in-law to the street and shot him in the head. At another place we went, a kind of mixed commercial residential area in Bucha, we met a crowd of people who were waiting for food and other goods to be dropped off. They were mostly older people who had remained. And I asked a man, Petro Trotsenko, if he felt any relief since the Russian troops had left. Here's our translator, Luka, asking and Trotsenko's answer.

LUKA: (Speaking Ukrainian).

PETRO TROTSENKO: (Crying).

ROTT: He begins to cry.

TROTSENKO: (Speaking Ukrainian).

LUKA: He can't say it with words.

TROTSENKO: (Speaking Ukrainian).

ROTT: "I want you to know," he says, "I was a soldier for the Soviet Union in Afghanistan when I was younger, and compared to what just happened here," he said, "that was heaven."

MARTINEZ: You're back in Kyiv now. How are the people there reacting to the news that's come out of Bucha?

ROTT: I mean, they're horrified. They're angry. They're frustrated that this war continues and that they're not getting more support. I talked to a man named Daniel Bilak, a Canadian-born local who's been an advisor to multiple prime ministers here in the past. Now he, like many civilians here, is serving with Ukraine's Territorial Defense, and here's what he had to say.

DANIEL BILAK: It looks as if the West is happy to fight Putin down to the last Ukrainian, and it does not have the courage of its own convictions. And this is now a moral issue. After Bucha, if NATO does not have moral clarity around this issue, then it starts to bear moral culpability.

ROTT: And, A, that's a sentiment I've heard from a lot of people here - frustration that NATO has not gotten more involved since these horrors have come to light.

MARTINEZ: NPR's Nathan Rott. Nate, thanks.

ROTT: Yeah, thank you.

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MARTINEZ: As the images out of the Kyiv suburb of Bucha continue to trickle in, condemnation from Western nations continues to grow.

FADEL: Before he left on his trip to Brussels yesterday, this is what Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

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ANTONY BLINKEN: This reinforces our determination and the determination of countries around the world to make sure that, one way or another, one day or another, there is accountability for those who committed these acts, for those who ordered them.

FADEL: He's meeting G-7 and NATO foreign ministers over the next couple of days, where he says they hope to sustain and increase the pressure on Russia to stop this aggression.

MARTINEZ: NPR's Michele Kelemen is traveling with Secretary of State Blinken. She's with us on the line now. Michele, I don't imagine that there're going to be any surprises as far as what the agenda is going to be today.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Yeah, I mean, those images out of Bucha, those scenes, those gruesome scenes, also the Ukrainian president's appeal to the U.N. Security Council yesterday to hold Russia to account for atrocities, are really at the top of everyone's minds here in Brussels. Secretary Blinken told us that these are not the actions of a rogue unit but a deliberate campaign by Russia to kill, torture and rape. Those were his words. The U.S. is supporting efforts to gather and safeguard evidence for future war crimes trials, but that's going to take time. Blinken was here in Brussels, really, to keep allies united and focused on all of this because, you know, there's a lot of concern that, as Russia pulls back from areas around Kyiv, they plan to focus more on the Donbas area in the east, and the U.S. wants to make sure that the Europeans are ready for this war to drag on and to do what they can to put pressure on Russia and to keep supplying Ukraine with weapons.

MARTINEZ: Is there anything concrete they plan to announce?

KELEMEN: So Secretary Blinken did announce another $100 million in military aid. That's for Javelin anti-tank missiles. The U.S. has given Ukraine $1.7 billion in security assistance since Russia invaded. We're also expected to hear more sanctions announcements in Washington and Brussels. The European Union has already said that it's expanding the sanctions they have in place. They're closing loopholes, and they're banning coal imports from Russia. There's really a big push to get the Europeans to be less dependent on Russian energy supplies. That's going to take time. But the U.S. believes that they're moving in that direction. And I should say that all of this - you know, the military support, the sanctions - are really meant to strengthen Ukraine's hand as it tries to negotiate some kind of end to this war.

MARTINEZ: Is Blinken meeting with anyone else while he's there?

KELEMEN: So he's meeting with European diplomats who have been involved in negotiations with Iran. They're the ones who are trying to revive that nuclear deal that the Trump administration left. He's also meeting with Japan's foreign minister and his Australian counterpart. So you can see that the Biden administration is still focused on China as well. Australia, the U.S. and U.K., a group known as AUKUS, just announced an agreement to cooperate more in high-tech areas, including on hypersonics. Those are weapons that are designed to evade existing missile defense systems. China has been testing those missiles. And Russia has said that it's used them in the war in Ukraine - so, again, a big focus on that.

MARTINEZ: That's NPR's Michele Kelemen. She is with Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Brussels today. Michele, thank you.

KELEMEN: Thank you.

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MARTINEZ: Medical providers in Oklahoma who perform abortions will face up to 10 years in prison if a new bill passed by the legislature goes into effect.

FADEL: With no debate and limited discussion, the Republican-controlled House approved a bill that aims to make abortions a felony, while hundreds of abortion rights supporters rallied outside the Capitol. It now awaits a signature from Republican Governor Kevin Stitt, who has previously said he would sign any anti-abortion legislation.

MARTINEZ: Reporter Catherine Sweeney of public radio initiative StateImpact Oklahoma joins us now. Catherine, efforts to ban abortion are not new in Oklahoma. What makes this particular bill different?

CATHERINE SWEENEY: Context first - so Texas recently banned the vast majority of abortions, which drove up demand here in Oklahoma. I talked with Iman Alsaden, who is the medical director for Planned Parenthood Great Plains. That's this region. In the last four months of 2020, before Texas ban went into place, 50 Texans traveled to our region for Planned Parenthood clinic abortions. Again, that's the last four months of 2020. After that ban, in the last four months of 2021, that was about 1,100. So Oklahoma providers are treating people in Oklahoma but also people from Texas. Here's Alsaden.

IMAN ALSADEN: Absolutely. The burden on New Mexico and Kansas and Louisiana is going to be immense.

SWEENEY: There are also concerns that the U.S. Supreme Court wouldn't step in to say that this is unconstitutional, which has happened in the past.

MARTINEZ: So it sounds like Oklahoma's ban could have a pretty big impact on the region.

SWEENEY: That's definitely for sure. Again, we're treating people from other states. And if Oklahoma stops providing abortions, abortion rights activists are concerned that that will just push further north. And also, Kansas is considering a ban on a ballot initiative that they'll vote on in August.

MARTINEZ: Catherine, did this vote come as any surprise?

SWEENEY: Yes and no. So the House, the GOP-controlled House, passed the bill with 70 votes for, 14 against. It was a surprise because that bill had been assumed dormant. It got almost to the finish line last year, seemingly disappeared. They kind of brought it back with just one vote this year. It didn't have to go through the whole process. So that came as a surprise. But the Legislature has passed about a dozen abortion bills this year, abortion restriction bills, and they seem to be retrying past ones. They actually passed a bill just like this in 2016. The governor then vetoed it. But we have a new governor now, and Governor Stitt has said he'll sign any abortion restriction measures that make it to his desk.

MARTINEZ: So what's next in the fight for reproductive rights?

SWEENEY: That bill that criminalizes performing abortions, that's going to the governor's desk. He's expected to sign it. Actually, today a House committee will vote on another bill that's a copycat of the ban in Texas. And we'll see if there are injunctions on any of these bills. Like I said, there are about a dozen. We don't know which ones will manage to go into effect. In the coming months, the Supreme Court will consider Mississippi's abortion law, which could result in the removal of the right to an abortion as been - as has been guaranteed by Roe v. Wade since 1973.

MARTINEZ: Reporter Catherine Sweeney of public radio initiative StateImpact Oklahoma. Catherine, thanks.

SWEENEY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering race and identity. Starting in February 2022, she will be one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First.
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.