A bipartisan group of House lawmakers who recently returned from Kyiv have put their support behind Ukrainian government requests for the U.S. to provide more air defense systems, munitions, drones and military training to the war-torn country.
President Biden has asked Congress to pass legislation to provide about $37 billion in new U.S. assistance to Ukraine, but that request has come under criticism from some Republicans who have called for more accountability on funds spent in Ukraine.
Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), who led the weekend trip, said the lawmakers believed that providing the funding to Ukraine would help it win the fight against Russia.
He noted that the trip was his second following a visit in January, just before Russia launched its full-scale invasion on Feb. 24.
“What we have learned since then is that they are … able to fight for themselves,” Gallego said in a call with reporters on Monday, adding that “if we give them the resources, they will win the fight.”
“And they’re not just looking to win the fight today. They’re also looking [at] how to win the future of Ukraine,” he said.
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have expressed support for passing the new package, which comes on top of the nearly $40 billion provided by the U.S. since the Russian invasion.
But there’s little clarity on when Congress will manage to pass such a bill with the GOP taking over the House in January and the two parties fighting over a larger spending deal for the next year.
“The timing is very necessary, right now. I do worry that we’re going to have a Congress that comes in next year that will be hostile to packages of this sort,” Gallego said.
“We know right now that Ukraine is in a very dire situation. They are economically teetering. They’re trying to survive the winter, but they also have an opportunity really to push on Russia, especially come early spring,” he continued.
“And if we give them the weapons they need and support they need, I do think that they could have a very big impact next year and hopefully end this war sooner than not because the longer war goes, the more beneficial it is, really, to Russia.”
Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the trip to Kyiv assured him that the Biden administration and Ukrainian government are committed to being transparent about how U.S. assistance is being spent.
“We will have the accountability which is necessary to assure the taxpayers of America that their tax money has been well used to actually, from my perspective, ultimately defend the people of the United States,” he said.
Wilson further added he has a “great appreciation” for U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink and Brig. Gen. Garrick Harmon, who serves as defense attache at the embassy, saying that they are “working for transparency and accountability, that the records are going to be made available” for Congress to review.
The delegation to Kyiv, which also included Reps. Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.), Salud Carbajal (Calif.) and Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), also met with government officials and civil society leaders focused on anti-corruption, a key area of concern for critics of continued U.S. assistance to Kyiv.
“We talked with the head of the anti-corruption bureau, who has done remarkable work over the last 10 years, about how that work will continue and how we can support that work through the reconstruction to come after the war to make sure that Ukraine is well integrated with the West,” Moulton said in the call with reporters.
The lawmakers took a round-trip, overnight train to Kyiv for 10 hours of meetings, Gallego said. For many of them, it was their second time in Ukraine but their first to visit since Russia invaded.
Gallego described the on-the-ground situation in Kyiv as both depressed and resilient.
He described darkness and cold enveloping the city — both because of damage to Ukraine’s infrastructure from Russian attacks and as a strategic defense to hide possible targets. Civilian and government infrastructure were fortified with boarded-up windows and sandbags.
Despite that, Gallego said, people were exercising resilience.
“You could still see people walking around. You can still see people at cafes. You can see people still going to bars, even though they may be dark. They still are going to live their lives, and I think the best we could do is for us to give them the support they need to survive the winter, to fight back and to keep their freedom.”