Advertisement

‘Very Stressful': Ukraine Allies Watch In Frustration As Congress Dithers Over Aid

Nadiia Khomaziuk was hesitant to become a naturalized U.S. citizen.

Born in the small town of Zdolbuniv, in western Ukraine, she says she waited five or six years after moving to the United States to become, like her husband and children, a U.S. citizen. The reason? Family history.

Her grandfather was part of an insurgent army that fought the Soviets after World War II. In the late 1980s, before the Cold War ended, her father organized rallies in support of Ukrainian independence and its language, only to die under mysterious circumstances.

“It was almost like a bad thought: Am I betraying my country that my grandfather and my father really gave their lives for?” she told HuffPost. “But I saw that this country, that the United States of America pursues the value of freedom, pursues the value of democracy.”

Now, Khomaziuk and other Ukrainian Americans are questioning their faith in America as a historical guarantor of liberty globally as the debate over aid aid to Ukraine drags on in the U.S. Capitol, with wholly unrelated issues holding up desperately needed aid and a solution before the new year begins looking nigh-impossible.

The Ukrainian and U.S. flags are on display at a meeting Wednesday between Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon.
The Ukrainian and U.S. flags are on display at a meeting Wednesday between Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon.

The Ukrainian and U.S. flags are on display at a meeting Wednesday between Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon.

Republicans are insisting on tying more aid — which has mostly been unused weapons sent to Ukraine, to be replaced by newer, better ones for the Pentagon — to changes in how applicants for asylum at the southern border are processed and treated.

Congressional Democrats and the White House have countered by offering to deal with aid to Ukraine, Israel and the Indo-Pacific region as well as the Mexico border in a single bill.

“A cynic would believe that Republicans have made this immigration demand because they want Ukraine funding to go down,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who has been negotiating with Sen. Jim Lankford (R-Okla.) on immigration.

For Khomaziuk and others like her, the stakes are less about a political win or loss; they are more immediate. In her job as a communications director for the U.S.-Ukrainian Business Council, she has no choice but to be aware of what’s going on back home, which makes things all the more difficult.

“When you are abroad, there is not much you can do except for donating to not-for-profits, or sending some supplies or calling every other day, asking ‘How are you? How are you?’” she said.

Alexandra Blagova, another native Ukrainian who is now a U.S. citizen, said she is constantly on the phone with her relatives in the western Ukrainian city of  Lviv and the capital, Kyiv.

A Ukrainian soldier pets his cat Wednesday during a visit by a public relations officer with the 10th Edelweiss Brigade who wore a St. Nicholas costume as he presented candy packs to soldiers on the front line in Ukraine's Bukhmut District.
A Ukrainian soldier pets his cat Wednesday during a visit by a public relations officer with the 10th Edelweiss Brigade who wore a St. Nicholas costume as he presented candy packs to soldiers on the front line in Ukraine's Bukhmut District.

A Ukrainian soldier pets his cat Wednesday during a visit by a public relations officer with the 10th Edelweiss Brigade who wore a St. Nicholas costume as he presented candy packs to soldiers on the front line in Ukraine's Bukhmut District.

“With my phone, I sleep, I go to work. I’m constantly on the phone because I’m afraid. I’m afraid I won’t be able to hear them again,” she said. Blagova, who lives in Richmond, Virginia, is a customer service representative for a bank and runs a nonprofit that sends humanitarian and front-line aid to Ukraine. 

“I can’t understand why the aid to Ukraine should be connected with border security. What is in common?” asked Oleksii Goncharenko, a Ukrainian member of the parliament who represents the port city of Odesa. “I can’t understand this. There is frustration about this.”

Adding to Ukranians’ frustration is the stark difference between how aid to the country is treated compared with aid to Israel, which faces comparatively little pushback from lawmakers.

While aid for Israel and Ukraine is ensnared as long as there is no border deal that meets Republican demands, the context surrounding each conflict is very different.

The United States has provided about $74 billion in military equipment and related aid to Ukraine since Russia invaded in February 2022. The White House is asking for about $60 billion more in the combo security bill.

Though Russia had success in the early months of the war, it has mostly been on the back foot since, with Ukraine having regained 50% of the territory lost. Still, a touted Ukrainian counteroffensive in the late summer failed to yield major breakthroughs.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting Thursday with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi at the Kremlin in Moscow.
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting Thursday with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi at the Kremlin in Moscow.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting Thursday with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi at the Kremlin in Moscow.

The White House’s request for Israel, at about $14 billion, is much smaller, but Israel is also in much less imminent danger. After a surprise attack on Oct. 7 by Hamas, Israel has been hammering the Palestinian territory of Gaza in an attempt to root out militants. But its efforts have also caused thousands of civilian deaths and drawn international backlash. 

Israel’s request seems to enjoy far more support on Capitol Hill, prompting the White House to tie the two fights together. But among the broader public, polling shows neither aid request overwhelmingly popular, and the difference in support between the two is minimal.

An Economist/YouGov poll taken in late November found that 53% of those responding wanted to increase or maintain the level of military aid to Israel, compared with 49% feeling the same way about military aid to Ukraine. About 70% of Republicans wanted more or the same level of support for Israel, while 68% of Democrats said the same thing about Ukraine.

Despite those numbers, Ukraine aid has been subject to far more scrutiny and conditions. For example, in October, Rep. Mike Garcia (R-Calif.) issued a 14-page “white paper” on the war in Ukraine that included a list of a dozen questions and demands he said needed to be addressed before more military aid to Ukraine should be approved. 

In addition to questions about how long the war was expected to take, its likely price tag and “exit criteria,” Garcia included one other: “President Biden must provide a commitment and evidence to the fact that his administration is not jeopardizing the schedule and cost of critical domestic weapon programs or the commitments we have made to Taiwan [Foreign Military Sales] programs and Israel [Foreign Military Financing] programs.”

In other words, the U.S. could provide more aid, but only if that would not hurt the flow of arms supplies to Israel and Taiwan.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) speaks to reporters as he walks to the Senate chamber on Wednesday. He said people want to know that aid to Ukraine wouldn't be a blank check.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) speaks to reporters as he walks to the Senate chamber on Wednesday. He said people want to know that aid to Ukraine wouldn't be a blank check.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) speaks to reporters as he walks to the Senate chamber on Wednesday. He said people want to know that aid to Ukraine wouldn't be a blank check.

In contrast, Republicans have expressed no interest in using aid to rein in Israel’s attacks on Gaza, and Democrats have split on the idea, leading one, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), to say just raising the idea of conditions was having a sobering effect on the Israelis.

“They are paying attention,” he said.

“There’s different political support for Israel,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) defended the disparate treatment. 

“Obviously, they’ve got a history of some corruption problems,” Cornyn said of Ukraine. “Also, people want a plan or [to] know this is not just a blank check,” he said.

Like other post-Soviet countries, Ukraine has struggled to root out corruption, but it has made progress and hopes to soon join the European Union, which has strict anti-corruption standards. In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in the third year of a trial for fraud and bribery charges, all of which he denies. His attempt to overhaul the country’s judiciary was seen by some as a way to give him an escape path if he is found guilty.

In terms of defined war objectives, Ukraine’s 10-point peace plan includes a condition that Russian troops be expelled from all of its territory, including Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014. Israel has said it wants to degrade Hamas’ ability to commit acts of terror, a goal not unlike the U.S. aim in regard to al Qaeda in its 20-year war in Afghanistan.

Asked if Israel’s goal was more concrete than Ukraine’s, Cornyn said, “I think so.”

Sen. Eric Schmitt (R-Mo.), after Tuesday’s briefing, said Ukraine’s goal is to seek $10 billion next year. “At some point, we have to ask, to what end?”

Blagova said the reasons lawmakers give are just personal preferences based on the idea that Israel is more likely to win than Ukraine.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during a wreath-laying ceremony at the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial on Sept. 21.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during a wreath-laying ceremony at the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial on Sept. 21.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during a wreath-laying ceremony at the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial on Sept. 21.

“They are forgetting that Ukraine is fighting an uphill battle against an enemy that has significantly bigger financial status, military, human resources,” she said. “In my opinion, there is no reason other than personal preference that military aid to Ukraine and to Israel should be treated differently.”

If American aid lapses, Ukrainians will see it as a repudiation of the 1994 agreement called the Budapest Memorandum, signed by the U.S., Russia and Britain, that they say guaranteed Ukraine’s sovereignty in exchange for giving up what was then the third-largest nuclear arsenal in the world, which it inherited from the Soviet Union. While most Americans have forgotten or never knew of the agreement, that is not the case for Ukrainians and their allies.

“I’ll tell you that: If we had the nuke, they would not touch us. And I know that. And all Ukrainian people know that,” Blagova said.

Goncharenko, the Ukrainian lawmaker, said Ukrainians “understand these are different stories” between Israel and Ukraine. But now the question is, he said, whether the U.S. will honor the Budapest Memorandum.

“This is frustrating, that these things have been forgotten quickly,” he said.

Khomaziuk said the U.S. made a commitment many seem to want to forget now. 

“It’s been disappointing, very stressful to realize that we even question whether or not we should provide support for Ukraine,” she said.

“I just don’t want to see a country that I have great respect for, the United States, a country that I chose to be my home, to turn its back on Ukraine and break the commitment. Otherwise, it’s to break values that the American nation is built on.”

Related...