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News brief: view from Kyiv, Fed meeting, targeted shooting probe

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Many residents of Kyiv have fled. Those who remain in Ukraine's capital city have been living in anticipation of the worst for 20 days now.

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Some people sleep deep underground in the subway stations now serving as bomb shelters. Others are too afraid to leave their apartments for fear of Russian shelling. Cease-fire negotiations between Ukrainians and Russian officials continue today. Also, the heads of state from the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovenia travel to Kyiv today to show support for Ukraine's President Zelenskyy. What will they see when they get to that capital?

MARTIN: Our co-host Leila Fadel is on the streets of Kyiv, and she joins us now. Leila, you have spent the last two weeks in the western part of Ukraine in the city of Lviv.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Right.

MARTIN: Now you're in Kyiv. How different are things in the capital?

FADEL: I mean, Rachel, really different. In Lviv, the signs of Russia's invasion show up in the form of funerals of soldiers killed defending Ukraine, hundreds of thousands of displaced people arriving to find safety, air raid sirens that typically warn of Russian strikes at least an hour away and most often much further away. There's been no direct hits on that city. But here in Kyiv, the sounds of artillery, Russian strikes, that's commonplace. I mean, just this morning, Rachel, I woke up to the sound of an explosion - three Russian strikes in Kyiv, according to local officials. They say the strikes hit residential buildings. And Russian forces are about 10 miles away from downtown.

When we got here yesterday in just a 10-minute drive, we leave through dozens of tank traps in the streets and checkpoints fortified with sandbag-filled dumpsters or concrete slabs so that if Russian forces show up, it won't be easy for tanks to roll into this city. It's also a city that feels a lot emptier than when you were here, Rachel. So many people have left to find safety. Right now in the center of the city, where I am, it's eerily quiet. This once bustling city of about 2.8 million feels so empty. People that remain are largely here because they want to stay; they want to save their city from Russian forces. Almost everyone is a fighter or a volunteer for the cause.

MARTIN: So, Leila, for so many days now, we've seen these photos of this stalled Russian convoy outside of Kyiv.

FADEL: Right.

MARTIN: I mean, are - is there any, like, sustained Russian presence in the capital city at this point?

FADEL: Inside the capital, no. Russian forces are still on the outskirts of Kyiv. They haven't breached the city center. But they bring terror in suburbs, especially in the northwest, in places like Irpin. Despite 20 days of war, though, the Russians haven't captured this capital. This is the prize that Russia wants - Ukraine's seat of power. But the Russian forces have pushed hard toward Kyiv from the beginning of this invasion and still don't have it. I should also note that Russia has so far been unable to capture any of Ukraine's largest cities. They've reached out to China for military assistance, but the U.S. has warned China that there will be consequences if China does what Russia has asked.

MARTIN: What are your conversations with people? I mean, how are they coping with living in this constant state of anxiety?

FADEL: Yeah. I mean, they stay inside at night. They close the curtains. They hope Russians don't show up at their door or they get caught in the crossfire of the fighting. One older man we heard from yesterday is trying to get evacuated from a Kyiv suburb where Russian forces are. He's scared to go outside because people are getting shot. And yesterday I watched an older couple kiss their daughter goodbye. They embraced for a long time. Their daughter was headed to Prague to stay with a friend to find safety. They didn't want to go with her because they didn't want to be a burden. And also, Sergei Kuzminka (ph), the dad, he can't leave 'cause of martial law. And he said they don't even go to the bomb shelter anymore. And this is him speaking.

SERGEI KUZMINKA: Because this shelter is very old and not suitable for safety of people, if something happened, these houses will be the grave for all who come there.

FADEL: They don't want to be buried alive.

MARTIN: Our co-host Leila Fadel talking to us from Ukraine's capital, Kyiv. Thank you, Leila.

FADEL: You're welcome, Rachel.

MARTIN: After we talked with Leila, local authorities in Kyiv announced a new curfew from 8 p.m. today until 7 p.m. Thursday for all residents. Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said, quote, "this is going to be a very critical 35 hours in the life of Ukraine's capital."

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MARTIN: OK. On this, the ides of March, the Federal Reserve is wary of inflation, which is now at its highest level in four decades.

MARTINEZ: Fed policymakers opened a two-day meeting today, and by the time they wrap up tomorrow, they're expected to raise interest rates for the first time in more than three years.

MARTIN: NPR's Scott Horsley is with us. Good morning, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: The Fed has telegraphed pretty clearly it plans to raise short-term borrowing costs by a quarter a percentage point this week. But where do rates go from there?

HORSLEY: We know rates are going to go higher. What we don't know is how high or how quickly. This week's rate hike is expected to be the first of a series of increases, but the size and timing of those additional rate hikes is still up in the air. You know, ordinarily, the Fed likes to give lots of advance notice so it doesn't spook the markets, but right now policymakers just aren't sure what's in store. You know, gasoline prices have come down just a little bit, but they're still way up since Russia invaded Ukraine. Greg McBride, who's chief financial analyst at bankrate.com, thinks the Fed's going to want to see how that's affecting consumer demand before it pushes interest rates much higher.

GREG MCBRIDE: The more money consumers are pouring into the gas tank, the more money that's being spent at the grocery store, the less money that's available for other discretionary spending.

HORSLEY: If that's the case, then the Fed might not have to raise interest rates as high in order to cool off demand. The Fed is walking a bit of a tightrope here, as it tries to get inflation under control without hitting the brakes too hard and pushing the economy into recession.

MARTIN: OK, so walk us through what the effect of higher interest rates means for American consumers.

HORSLEY: If you're borrowing money, it means you're going to probably have to pay more. Interest rates on credit cards and car loans will ratchet up pretty quickly. Mortgage rates have already gone up a bit. Unfortunately, people who are saving money will not necessarily see a benefit. Most banks have been paying next to nothing on savings accounts, and McBride says that's probably not going to change.

MCBRIDE: Most banks are already swimming in deposits. They're going to be very slow to raise interest rates and pass along those benefits to savers, if they even do so at all. However, online banks, those that are already paying a competitive return, they're the ones that are most likely to be passing that along and passing it along quicker.

HORSLEY: So it pays to shop around, especially when the value of money you have saved is eroding as a result of inflation.

MCBRIDE: That seems like a raw deal - interest rates go up, so it's more expensive to borrow money, but we don't get the benefit on our savings accounts.

HORSLEY: (Laughter).

MARTIN: So we're talking about the Federal Reserve. One of Biden's Fed nominees appears to be in trouble. Can you tell us what's happening there?

HORSLEY: Yeah, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin says he's going to oppose Sarah Bloom Raskin's nomination to be a top regulator at the Fed. Now, that won't affect interest rate decisions, but it could affect the Fed's policies when it comes to climate change. Raskin has been outspoken, saying regulators should pay more attention to the financial risks of a changing climate. That has endeared her to progressives, but it's angered Republicans and fossil fuel interests. Manchin's opposition could spell defeat for Raskin in a closely divided Senate. Right now the White House says they're not giving up on Raskin, but we're going have to see what happens with that moving forward.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Scott Horsley. We appreciate you, Scott. Thank you.

HORSLEY: You're welcome.

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MARTIN: Living on the street carries all kinds of risks, but it feels even more precarious for some right now.

MARTINEZ: In two of the nation's biggest cities, in less than two weeks, there have been five violent attacks against people living on those streets. Two men are dead, and three others are injured. And police in Washington, D.C., and in New York City are scrambling to find a suspect who, it's feared, could strike again, and they're asking the public for help.

MARTIN: Martin Austermuhle from member station WAMU here in Washington has been covering the story, and he is with us now. Martin, thanks for being here.

MARTIN AUSTERMUHLE, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Do police know anything at all about who carried out these attacks?

AUSTERMUHLE: Not a whole lot. They know that the shootings have been generally unprovoked. They happened in the early morning hours in both cities. The same gun was used for the two killings. One was in Washington; the other one was in New York. But officials say they don't know where the person responsible for these attacks lives or how he gets around. What they do have are very clear images of his face, which were caught on multiple surveillance cameras in Washington last week and are now being shared widely. They're also starting to share a lot of information about the case with police departments in other cities along the East Coast, just in case this person of interest continues moving around.

MARTIN: But they do identify it as a person of interest, and it was the same weapon - wow - in both Washington and New York. How are city officials and police in both those cities responding?

AUSTERMUHLE: Well, certainly every death is a tragedy, and both these cities have seen spikes in homicide over the last two years. But there is a sense here that the tragedy is just compounded because the victims were already experiencing homelessness and were additionally vulnerable. New York City Mayor Eric Adams spoke particularly passionately about this point yesterday, citing one of the killings over the weekend that was caught on video in his city, and this is what he had to say.

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ERIC ADAMS: He looked around, he made sure no one was there, and he intentionally took the life of an innocent person. He must be brought to justice.

AUSTERMUHLE: And in the meantime, both Adams and Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser are asking that unhoused residents go to shelter. Both cities guarantee access to homeless shelters. And in Washington, outreach crews were out yesterday handing out flyers and encouraging people who choose not to go to a shelter to at least stay in well-lit areas, avoid people they don't know and take other precautions.

MARTIN: So something like this, I mean, no doubt just draws even more attention to the vulnerability of those populations who are living on the streets, right?

AUSTERMUHLE: Oh, absolutely. And plenty of advocates have told me that as homelessness has become more visible in many cities, it's become more dangerous for people experiencing it. They're more likely to become victims of crime. Now, Adams and Bowser say they're taking every effort to help people get off the streets, but they've also both been criticized for doing things like banning unhoused people from sleeping on the subway in New York, and in Washington, Mayor Bowser has cleared some large homeless encampments. Now, advocates say these measures are counterproductive and can push people further to the margins where they're even more at risk. Both mayors, of course, reject these arguments. But advocates for homeless people like Ceymone Dyce of Pathways to Housing here in Washington tell me that these recent attacks highlight some points she says are critical for the public to understand.

CEYMONE DYCE: The cure for homelessness is a home. But in addition, understanding that people living on the streets without a home, they are far more likely to be victims of crime than they are to commit crime.

AUSTERMUHLE: Now, Dyce and other homeless advocates are pushing Bowser, the mayor of Washington, to increase funding for homeless services this week, and tomorrow we'll know whether she's listened, as she's set to release her proposed budget for the city for the coming year.

MARTIN: Reporter Martin Austermuhle from member station WAMU here in Washington, D.C. Thanks for your reporting on this, Martin. We appreciate it.

AUSTERMUHLE: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: We should note - since we talked to Martin this morning, police have apparently arrested someone who looks like the suspect involved in the killings. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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.
Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.