March 01, 2024

Ukrainians Are Resilient—But They Still Need Washington

Even as missiles fall on Ukraine and troops brace for a Russian spring offensive from the east, Kyiv is looking west. The U.S. congressional fight over aid to Ukraine, entangled as it is with border policy and presidential politics, has become a matter of survival for 43 million Ukrainians. In more than two years of war, Russian President Vladimir Putin has not broken Ukrainian will. Abandonment by the United States could achieve what Putin never has.

This month, I made a 1300-mile trip around Ukraine as part of a delegation hosted by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). We visited Kyiv and Odesa as well as Dnipro, Kharkiv, and other places farther east. The situation on the ground is changing, and U.S. political leaders should understand the enormous stakes. Those now debating the fate of assistance to Ukraine are deliberating over the fate of Ukraine itself.

The first thing that strikes a visitor to wartime in Ukraine is how remarkably normal life seems in many areas. Normal, that is, until the signs of war creep in—gradually and then suddenly.

Beyond material support, my visit made clear that the psychological effect of global solidarity, especially from the United States, remains vital.

Odesa’s elegantly beautiful theater remains open, and operas and shows go on. (Giuseppe Verdi’s Nabucco and Franco Alfano and Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot played a few days after our visit.) Yet the city was under an air alert as we arrived, and a walk along the seaside promenade revealed coiled barbed wire at each staircase.

In a mostly unheralded success, Ukraine has cleared the Black Sea coast of Russian warships—despite having a tiny navy with no warships of its own—and now exports grain from Odesa at near prewar levels. Ships load grain and skirt the coast as they head west, staying away from Russian predation. Outside the city, soldiers man roadside checkpoints to examine the papers of draft-age men.

In a town that we visited in Kherson Oblast, which suffered under Russian occupation until late 2022, virtually every building was damaged. Missile strikes, mortar fire, and machine guns took a serious toll. Many inhabitants fled the fighting, joining either the 6.5 million Ukrainian refugees outside the country or the 3.7 million displaced inside it. UNHCR and other aid agencies are assisting those who remained and others who have returned. Some never will.

Read the full article from Foreign Policy.

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