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Up First briefing: UAW strike deadline; East Coast storm; Zelenskyy interview

Steve Inskeep (left) interviews Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in New York City on Wednesday.
Kholood Eid for NPR
Steve Inskeep (left) interviews Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in New York City on Wednesday.

Good morning. You're reading the Up First newsletter. Subscribe here to get it delivered to your inbox, and listen to the Up First podcast for all the news you need to start your day.

Today's top stories

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made his case for continued U.S. aid during a trip to New York and Washington this week. On Thursday he met with members of Congress, who are mulling the White House's $24 billion request for Ukraine funding — and running up against an end-of-the-month deadline to pass a government spending bill. He received a bipartisan welcome from Senate leaders but not in the House, where Republicans are split on the issue.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke with NPR's Steve Inskeep in Manhattan on Wednesday.
/ Kholood Eid for NPR
Kholood Eid for NPR
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke with NPR's Steve Inskeep in Manhattan on Wednesday.

The historic auto workers strike could get even bigger today. United Auto Workers (UAW) President Shawn Fain says if "serious progress" isn't made by noon ET, the union will ask more workers to walk off the job — joining the roughly 13,000 who went on strike at three different plants last Friday. NPR's Andrea Hsu tells Up First that the union and automakers are still talking and trading proposals, but remain far apart on a range of issues from wages to retirement benefits.

  • Workers have rallied this week in Detroit, Chicago and Louisville,with many wondering whether their plant will be next. Rashad Martinez, who works at the Ford plant in Louisville, told Hsu on Thursday night: "I got work tomorrow. So we'll be that crew to walk off and I tell you, we're ready."

A shaky cease-fire in the South Caucasus appears to be holding, but raising a lot of questions. Azerbaijan says it has reestablished control over the breakaway ethnic Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, after an Azerbaijani offensive earlier this week that separatists say killed at least 200 people.

  • Azerbaijan "appears to have crushed a decades-long independence movement" in a little more than a day, NPR's Charles Maynes reports from Moscow.Armenia's government is now bracing for an influx of refugees and more protests at home, where people are angry at the lack of intervention by the government and Russian peacekeepers.
  • Among the most pressing questions is what will happen to ethnic Armenians in Nagorno Karabakh.Maynes says depending on the answer, we could still see Armenia somehow drawn into conflict — which could potentially force bigger powers, including the West, to get involved.

Parts of the East Coast are under a tropical storm warning this weekend. The National Hurricane Center is warning of high winds, coastal flooding and life-threatening rip currents from North Carolina to New Jersey. The disturbance is expected to become a tropical storm by Friday night as it nears the North Carolina coast.

  • If it does, it will be named Ophelia. That would be the 16th named storm of the 2023 Atlantic hurricane season — which forecasters have predicted will see "above-normal levels of activity," with up to 21 named storms.

From our hosts

Steve Inskeep joined NPR in 1996 and started hosting Morning Edition in 2004. He also hosts Up First.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy appeared suddenly. I turned my head to discover him standing among aides, security people and members of the NPR crew. In a room full of suits and ties, he wore his military cargo pants and a dark sweatshirt decorated with the crest of Ukraine.

Before we started, he had questions about how he would be heard. He knew the radio and podcast episodes would take away some of his tools of communication, the trademark outfit and his expressive face. He spoke English whenever possible to avoid interpretation. Zelenskyy was visiting the annual gathering of the United Nations — which included Russia, as well as nations that do not actively support Ukraine's cause. He was also visiting U.S. officials, who provide vital support.

He has said Ukraine is defending democracy, and we discussed the problems of a democratic country in an extended war. Martial law has, among other things, delayed elections. He faces questions from some Ukrainians about when they will resume, and said it would be hard to vote in a war zone when many voters are scattered to other countries.

On Morning Edition, A Martínez asked me about the weight that Zelenskyy must carry. It made me reflect on how different the war might seem if Ukraine had had a different president, some gray and jowly official with a political past stretching back to Soviet times. Instead, it's a 45-year-old former comedian rallying his people, and anyone in the world that will take his side.

Weekend picks

Clockwise from top left: <em>Invisible Beauty</em>,<em> Foe</em>,<em> All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt</em>,<em> The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes</em>,<em> </em><em>My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 </em>and <em>Nyad.</em>
/ Magnolia Pictures; Amazon Studios; A24; Murray Close/Lionsgate; Focus Features; Liz Parkinson/Netflix
Magnolia Pictures; Amazon Studios; A24; Murray Close/Lionsgate; Focus Features; Liz Parkinson/Netflix
Clockwise from top left: Invisible Beauty, Foe, All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 and Nyad.

Check out what NPR is watching, reading and listening to this weekend:

Movies: Our NPR critics reveal the 25 films they're most excited to see between now and Thanksgiving.

TV: The Gold explores the aftermath of a real 1983 gold heist when thieves broke into a warehouse and made off with three tons of gold bars. Catch the zippy saga on Paramount+.

Books: In Wellness, Jack and Elizabeth stare down the advent of middle age and realize they're very different from the people they were when they first met. The novel is both funny and heartbreaking.

Music: Mitski says her new album, The Land Is Inhospitable And So Are We, is her most American. In it, she tries to reconcile all of her identities with what it means to be American.

Quiz: This week's news quiz tackles everything from art to business to politics. There's a rather large clue in this very newsletter.

3 things to know before you go

Fat Bear Week begins October 4.
/ Felicia Jimenez/NPS photo
Felicia Jimenez/NPS photo
Fat Bear Week begins October 4.

  1. Are you ready for Fat Bear Week? From past scandals to potential future champions, here's what you need to know before voting opens in October.
  2. Free COVID tests by mail are coming back. Starting Monday, the federal government will send up to four rapid tests per household to anyone who requests them.
  3. Olympic gold medalist Florence Griffith Joyner, aka "Flo-Jo," revolutionized women's sprinting with her speed and style. NPR looks at her legacy 25 years after her death.

This newsletter was edited by Majd Al-Waheidi. Suzanne Nuyen contributed.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit

Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.