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America’s solidarity with Ukraine

Last March, just a few weeks after Russia’s brutal full-scale invasion began, I went to Dulles International Airport to pick up the wife and children of a Ukrainian official who had sent them to safety in the early days of the war. As we were driving back to my home in Charles Town, W.Va., the kids cried out “Mama, look at all the Ukrainian flags!” Indeed, the entire half-mile stretch of the nearby rural town of Hillsboro, Va., with its population of fewer than 150 people, was covered with blue and yellow flags and “Stand with Ukraine” signs and banners.

But this was not the end. The following month, in April 2022, Hillsboro’s UkraineAid concert and art auction raised $20,000 to support war refugees. Just last month, in February, the town held an “Art of War” auction to raise money for Ukraine, featuring a Swedish award-winning political cartoonist and an internationally-known blacksmith from Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine.

Throughout the past year, and especially in the initial months following the invasion, I have seen various expressions of support in Charles Town, W.Va. There’s a coffee shop that closed for two weeks last summer because the owners – as part of a mission by the local Baptist church – went to Romania to aid Ukrainian refugees. And there’s the local gentleman who on a nearly daily basis for months on end has been displaying pro-Ukraine signs and collecting donations for United Nations programs that have been providing help to Ukraine.

There were fundraisers in the nearby town of Shepherdstown, W.Va., and Ukrainian flags waving in the center of historic Harpers Ferry, W.Va., among other displays of solidarity.

Mind you, these places have no apparent connections with Ukraine and only a handful of Ukrainian Americans reside there. In her recent remarks at the Munich Security Conference, Vice President Kamala Harris noted: “I will tell you, I travel around the United States, and I have seen the Ukrainian flag fly in places most of you have probably never heard of in the United States: in storefronts, in front of homes, Americans proudly wearing the colors of Ukraine.” There have been thousands of protests, petitions, fundraisers and concerts across the country.

This support has come from not only ordinary Americans (which is especially heartening), but also from the more influential and well-known members of American society: actors, artists, musicians, sports figures, as well as experts, thought leaders and activists.

Also, Ukrainian-Americans, often working with other fellow Americans, have been amazing in stepping up as never before to help their ancestral homeland in its time of great need.

The media has done a commendable job informing Americans about the war and, indeed, about Ukraine. CNN, PBS, NPR, The New York Times and The Washington Post, among others, have provided especially in-depth and compelling on-the-ground coverage. In addition to the many reports on day-to-day developments as well as solid analysis and commentary, we have seen powerful accounts of the impact of the war on Ukrainian society. There have been many moving stories about ordinary Ukrainians – what they have endured and how they are coping.

Naturally, the coverage has ebbed and flowed depending on developments and is not, for the most part, as intense as in the early months of the war. During the week leading up to the war’s one-year anniversary, coverage spiked, with several outstanding specials on CNN and MSNBC. On two Sundays in a row, CBS’ iconic “60 Minutes” led off with stories from Ukraine. Social media coverage of the war also has been as intensive as it has been profuse.

American policymakers and the foreign policy establishment, with relatively few exceptions, are committed to standing with Ukraine “as long as it takes.” U.S. government assistance is unprecedented. President Joe Biden’s recent surprise visit to Kyiv – the first in modern history by a U.S. president to a war zone without the protection of the U.S. military – is exhibit number 1. Within the executive branch, the debate is not whether to support Ukraine – that’s a given. Rather, it is between those who are more cautious in their approach and those who are more forward-leaning.

A substantial majority of both chambers in Congress remain committed to doing what they can to help Ukraine win. This is notwithstanding questions about funding levels for American assistance that has been sent for the war effort and accountability regarding its disbursement (which, thus far, thankfully, has not been a problem), as well as some frustration that our European allies are not shouldering more of the burden. And while one should not underestimate – and must combat – those who wish to cut aid, most Democrats and Republicans are dedicated to trying to help Ukraine win.

In the Senate, both Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Republican leader Mitch McConnell are stalwart supporters of Ukraine, as are the majority in both their caucuses.

In the House, you have the extremist MAGA-wing – they are a noisy, shortsighted and rather incoherent minority who recently introduced the Ukraine Fatigue Resolution, which I doubt will get any serious traction. As in other policy arenas, we see a fissure within the Republican party – between the isolationists who want to diminish support for Ukraine and the internationalists – some of whom are critical of the administration for not providing additional military aid more rapidly. Impor­tantly – and this matters a lot – Republican chairmen of key House committees, such as Foreign Affairs, Intelligence and Armed Services, are all staunchly committed to Ukraine’s success.

And yet, despite these amazing expressions of concrete and moral support in the year since the launch of Russia’s full-fledged invasion, opinion polls show a softening of support for arming Ukraine in comparison to the early months of the war. Not surprisingly, much of the opposition comes from the pro-Trump wing of the Republican party.

How worried should we be about this relatively modest decline in support? I believe that there is cause for concern, but not alarm. There is still a deep reservoir of support – a critical mass – among the American people and their elected representatives.

Why do I think most Americans will continue to support Ukraine?

First, most Americans love an underdog. Many are in awe of a people defending their freedom. It’s not unusual to hear the word “amazing” to describe the courage, resilience and ingenuity of the Ukrainian people. In more than one casual conversation, I’ve heard folks wonder how we Americans would compare with Ukrainians in similar circumstances.

Second, many Americans understand the geopolitical and strategic ramifications of this war. They understand that brute, unprovoked aggression and annexation of another country’s territory must not be rewarded and that the principles of territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence greatly matter to peace, security and the rules-based international order. They understand that standing shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine and providing necessary military and financial assistance serves and furthers our own vital national interests.

But there is more to it than that. Many Americans who are not especially attuned to the geopolitical dimension support Ukraine because it is the right thing to do – it is about the core values of democracy, freedom and human dignity. They are shocked and horrified by what they see and read, the massive atrocities committed by Russian forces, in what has become the most documented war in history. The solidarity that we have seen over the last year is perhaps a reflection, first and foremost, of the fundamental decency, generosity and goodwill of the American people.

Call me naive, but I am confident that, despite some headwinds and countervailing pressures, most Americans have lost neither their moral compass nor their common sense. They will continue to stand in solidarity with the Ukrainian people as long as it takes. And places like Hillsboro, Va., give me that hope.

The Ukrainian Weekly