Obviously, the Russian Federation continues its unjustified war and barbaric atrocities in Ukraine. And Congress has, among other things, passed the Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act.
Here though I focus on two trips to Ukraine by members of the United States Congress.
The first you surely have heard about because it involved the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
The second a far less reported earlier visit by Senator Steve Daines (R-MT). This was a trip the Senator and his chief of staff took at his expense because the Department of State did not want him to go. He and Victoria Spartz (R-IN) – who was in Ukraine to visit her grandmother - went to Bucha and saw firsthand the atrocities Putin's demonic troops carried out there.
BY MYCHAEL SCHNELL - 05/01/22 8:14 AM ET
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said on Sunday following a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv that the U.S. should “not be bullied by bullies” when asked about sending additional aid to Ukraine without provoking a response from Russia.
“Let me speak for myself … do not be bullied by bullies. If they’re making threats, you cannot back down. That’s my view of it,” Pelosi told reporters during a press conference in Poland.
Pelosi added that the purpose of the trip was to “send a clear message to the world: America stands with Ukraine.”
“Stands with Ukraine until the victory is won. And we stand with our NATO allies in supporting Ukraine,” she said.
The Speaker’s office announced early Sunday that Pelosi and other lawmakers visited Kyiv, where the group met with Zelensky. The congressional delegation huddled with the Ukrainian president and his leadership team for three hours discussing sanctions on Russia and how they could be strengthened, weapons and how supplies could be increased, and economic, food and humanitarian assistance.
They are also slated to meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda and other senior officials.
Reps. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Bill Keating (D-Mass.) and Jason Crow (D-Colo.) traveled with Pelosi as part of the congressional delegation.
In a statement on Sunday, the delegation said Zelensky thanked the U.S. “for the substantial assistance that we have provided” before making note of Kyiv’s needs as Russia’s invasion progresses through its third month. “He conveyed the clear need for continued security, economic and humanitarian assistance from the United States to address the devastating human toll taken on the Ukrainian people by Putin’s diabolic invasion – and our delegation proudly delivered the message that additional American support is on the way, as we work to transform President Biden’s strong funding request into a legislative package,” the group said.
Meeks, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told reporters on Sunday that Zelensky was “pleased” that Congress had passed a number of bills supporting Ukraine amid the conflict. He specifically pointed to the Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act and the Asset Seizure for Ukraine Reconstruction Act.
Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said the Russia-Ukraine conflict is “a struggle of freedom against tyranny.”
“And in that struggle, Ukraine is on the front lines. The whole freedom-loving world has an interest in the outcome of this war and ensuring that Ukraine is victorious. And we are determined to do everything in our power to make it so,” he added.
I do note before setting out the article regarding Senator Daines' trip that several members of the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation’s Friends of Ukraine Network Task Force on National Security met with the Senator last week.
The senator is emphatically committed to U.S. support - immediate and on-going -for Ukraine to win the war.
Mike Brest - Yesterday 6:00 AM
Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Victoria Spartz became the first U.S. lawmakers to travel to Ukraine since Russia invaded on Feb. 24 when they spent two days there about two weeks ago.
The Republican senator from Montana was in Slovakia meeting with government officials when Ukrainian leaders extended an invitation for him to visit Kyiv, the country's capital, and Bucha, a suburb located on the outskirts of town where there have been reports of alleged war crimes, including mass graves and executed civilians.
Daines accepted the invitation because “they want Americans, and the world, to know about [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s atrocities against innocent people of Ukraine [that] are happening now, and not after time has passed, in the aftermath of the evil and bloodshed," he told the Washington Examiner in an interview on Tuesday.
“I thought the absence of any American official in Ukraine since Feb. 24 was conspicuous,” he explained, though both Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveled there earlier this week. “It was time for an American to be there, and when they invited me to come, I said I would do it, and I was proud to show that Americans stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Ukraine in their fight for freedom.”
Daines stood alongside Ukrainian officers as they exhumed bodies from the “shallow graves” that were “filled with civilians, women, children,” while “the stench of death was still very much apparent. At one moment, I had to put my hand and my jacket over my nose because it was awful.”
“When I was there, Mike, I saw things that I would wish nobody would ever have to see in their lifetime,” the senator added. “I stood literally on the edge of the shallow graves that were full of innocent, murdered Ukrainians. It was indisputable — the evidence is related to war crimes being committed.”
Russia sought at the beginning of its offensive to move troops from Belarus, which borders Ukraine from the north, quickly to Kyiv, where they would be able to topple the government, but it did not work out. The Russians faced insurmountable resistance from Ukrainian forces, in addition to a series of self-inflicted problems such as an ineffective resupply support and poor morale.
Russian forces occupied various towns outside the capital, such as in Bucha, where they stayed before ultimately retreating.
Upon the Russian retreat from the areas surrounding the capital, the crimes the Kremlin's troops allegedly committed in those towns became known.
While Daines was at one of the mass graves where forensic investigators were exhuming bodies, a Ukrainian police officer showed him a booklet found nearby that had personal information of Russian soldiers.
"One of the Russian soldiers accidentally left behind these little booklets, and I asked the police officers to interpret what information is contained in these booklets, and he started flipping through a page by page, they had the name of every one of those soldiers in that particular unit, their date of birth, their legal name, and then it has the names of their parents."
Ukrainian officials are using the U.S.-based Clearview AI software to identify captured or dead Russian soldiers, the total number of which is unknown, but U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said on Monday that the number of killed in action is roughly 15,000.
Daines, who has four children and three grandchildren, visited residential complexes that had been destroyed and found a child's toy. He added, "These were some small children that one day were playing with friends or with their mothers or grandmothers, and the next moment, they were killed by the Russians."
Following the senator's return to the U.S., he and Spartz wrote a letter to President Joe Biden urging him to send members of his administration to Ukraine and to restart U.S. diplomatic efforts in Kyiv. Since that letter was sent, Austin and Blinken traveled to the capital to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and Blinken said the State Department would restart its embassy reopening efforts shortly.
Biden tapped Bridget Brink, a career senior foreign service member and the ambassador to Slovakia, to be the ambassador to Ukraine as a part of plans to reopen the embassy in Kyiv. Brink met with Daines during his time in Slovakia, and he praised her nomination, saying, “She’s the right person for the job, and she wants to see through her bold leadership, the embassy reopened in Kyiv.”
While the Montana senator praised the Biden administration's recent acts, including providing $1.5 billion in military aid since Russia shifted its focus away from the capital and to the east, he was more critical of the early parts of the war and the administration's actions in the time leading up to it, mainly referencing energy dependence.
Please note, the introductory comments and other "bold" comments are Mr. McConnell's and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation or the Friends of Ukraine Network.
Coordinator, External Relations
U.S.-Ukraine Foundation’s Friends of Ukraine Network
Robert A. McConnell is a co-founder of the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation and Coordinator of External Relations for the Foundation’s Friends of Ukraine Network. He is Principal of R.A. McConnell and Associates. Previously, he has served as head of the Government Advocacy Practice at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, Vice President – Washington for CBS, Inc, and Assistant Attorney General in the Department of Justice during the Reagan Administration. firstname.lastname@example.org