Vote to resume US military aid is greeted with relief in Ukraine

The Ukrainian lieutenant was in a firing position on the Eastern Front, commanding an artillery unit that relied on American-supplied M777 howitzers and other large guns, as U.S. lawmakers gathered in Washington to decide whether its guns would were forced to remain silent due to lack of ammunition. .

But when the lieutenant returned to his base Saturday evening, he received word that he and millions of Ukrainians had been praying to be heard.

“I had just entered the building after the shift change when the guys informed me that the aid package for Ukraine had finally been approved by Congress,” said the lieutenant, identified only by his first name, Oleksandr, in compliance with military protocol. . “We hope that this aid package will reach us as soon as possible.”

The decision by American lawmakers to resume military assistance after months of costly delays was greeted with a collective sigh of relief and an outpouring of gratitude in a battered and bloodied Ukraine. It may have come late, soldiers and civilians said, but American support meant more than bullets and bombs.

It offered something equally important: hope.

Immediately after the vote passed in Congress, Ukrainian citizens took to social media to express their thanks and joy, posting American flag memes that mixed Ukrainian images with American symbols like the Statue of Liberty.

“I have tears in my eyes,” Anton Gerashchenko, the founder of the Ukrainian Institute for the Future, a research group, said in a message. “So much suffering, so much pain. So many lost friends and wonderful people in these horrible years of war. Now there is hope to save more lives of those who are still alive.”

The $60 billion military assistance package approved by the House is expected to be voted on by the Senate and signed by President Biden as early as Tuesday. The Pentagon has said it could resume sending weapons to Ukraine within days through a well-established logistics network.

While the Pentagon has not released details about what will be included in the first assistance package, the United States has provided most of the ammunition Ukrainian forces desperately need, including artillery shells and precision rockets for strikes. long distance.

Ukrainian officials said it will also likely help replenish Ukraine's short- and medium-range air defense systems, including missiles capable of intercepting Russian ballistic missiles that are being used with devastating effect on Ukraine's energy grid.

Some items, such as artillery shells, could start arriving relatively quickly, but both Ukrainian commanders and military analysts have warned that it will take weeks before U.S. assistance begins to have a direct impact on the fight.

“The situation on the front will therefore likely continue to deteriorate over that period, particularly if Russian forces increase their attacks to exploit the limited window before new US aid arrives,” analysts at the Institute for the Study of War, a The agency's Washington-based research group wrote over the weekend.

Lt. Oleksandr said the Russians have recently appeared determined to throw as many resources into the battle as quickly as possible to take advantage of Ukraine's depleted arsenal.

“The Russians spare nothing, neither aerial bombs nor artillery,” he said. “They can fire up to two or three Lancets for each of our cannons in a day, whereas one Lancet costs more than the cannon itself,” he said, referring to one of Russia's most sophisticated drones.

Franz-Stefan Gady, senior advisor at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said that even with U.S. assistance, the air defense situation “will remain difficult for many months to come.” Renewed U.S. assistance, however, will allow European nations to increase their own weapons production, he said.

Mick Ryan, a retired major general in the Australian Army and a member of the Lowy Institute, a Sydney-based research group, wrote that restoring air defenses and artillery would be Ukraine's top priority, but that the bill provides for other critical and less visible interventions. support. This includes “spare parts for US tanks and armored vehicles, drones, mortars, radios, engineering equipment, and the panoply of equipment required on the modern battlefield,” he wrote on his Substack page.

Since American aid stopped flowing into Ukraine this year, Russia has been able to seize more than 360 square kilometers, or about 139 square miles, of territory, according to the Institute for the Study of War.

As Ukraine was forced to go on defense, Russia's arsenal was bolstered with deliveries of missiles and drones from Iran and North Korea, while China's support helped Moscow mitigate the impact of sanctions, helping the Kremlin to convert its economy into a defensive strategy. support in times of war.

According to American officials, Russia has also managed to replace more than 315,000 soldiers killed or wounded in battle.

The Russian military is now 15% larger than when it invaded Ukraine, Gen. Christopher Cavoli, head of the U.S. European Command, said in testimony to Congress ahead of Saturday's vote.

Ukrainian officials have warned that Russia is preparing the ground for a broader offensive in late spring or early summer.

While the Russians have so far failed to exploit Ukraine's deficit in both men and weapons to achieve a major breakthrough, military analysts have warned that they may still be able to make significant progress in the coming weeks.

Russian forces continue to advance west of the town of Avdiivka on Saturday, around Lieutenant Oleksandr's firing position. They are also attacking the strategically important hilltop fortress of Khasiv Yar in eastern Ukraine.

If the Kremlin forces managed to conquer the important heights in the area, a conglomeration of the largest cities in the Donbass region still under Ukrainian control would be threatened.

At the same time, Russia has continued to target towns and cities across the country with long-range missile and drone attacks, demolishing homes, port infrastructure and energy facilities.

Ukraine's allies have said they are racing to find more sophisticated air defense systems like the American-made Patriots stationed around Europe to help Kiev, but the Ukrainians expect Moscow to try to do as much damage as possible first that these systems arrive.

As they have done day after day for more than two years, rescue workers from Odesa on the Black Sea to Sumy, near Ukraine's northern border with Russia, raced to pull people from the rubble of bombed buildings as the House voted Saturday .

“But today it is still a little different,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his Saturday evening address to the nation. “Today we received the long-awaited decision: the American support package we fought so hard for.”

Zelensky said on NBC's “Meet the Press” on Sunday that the aid “will support Ukraine and send a powerful signal.” He added that this means that Ukraine will not become “a second Afghanistan”.

The Kremlin, which U.S. lawmakers say is orchestrating a sophisticated campaign to shape American public opinion and undermine support for Ukraine, reacted with a mix of bravado and fury.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitri S. Peskov said military assistance would only contribute to Ukraine's “ruin.” If provisions of the legislation allowing the United States to seize billions in frozen Russian central bank assets are used to pay for Ukraine's reconstruction, he warned, America “will have to answer for it.”

Lt. Col. Oleksii Khilchenko, a 30-year-old Ukrainian brigade commander fighting around Robotyne on the southern front, said the new weapons would allow the Ukrainians to fight “even more fiercely and with all their courage.”

“This support from American society will save the lives of our soldiers and strengthen them across the front lines,” he said. “We will use this assistance to strengthen our armed forces and end this war – a war that Russia must lose.”

The House vote also boosted the spirits of the volunteer army that helped support Ukrainian soldiers during the war.

“A wonderful day today,” said Olena Detsel, founder of the volunteer organization Three in a Canoe, which raises money for soldiers' urgent needs.

“The news of financial support from the United States is like a breath of fresh air,” he said in a text message. “It leads us to understand that we are not alone in this fight.”

Liubov Sholudko and Gerry Mullany contributed to the reporting.

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