This is not, as some in Washington and Europe have portrayed, just a bothersome fight between Ukraine and Russia over illegal land grabs. This is a war forced upon the Ukrainians by a country that cannot abide freedom anywhere in the neighborhood and led by a man who does not believe Ukraine has the right to be a sovereign nation. Ukraine wants to make decisions for itself and to decide politically what it wants to do, which organizations and institutions with which it might wish to associate, without being ordered by Russia and others that it cannot make those decisions.
What is even worse is that some European governments and even many people in the United States believe that Ukraine should simply fold its tents, cede its territory and slink back to these new fake boundaries forced upon it by Russia, all in the name of just making it go away. These same governments and same people have tarred Ukraine with the unfortunate brush of not being a serious country, of being so corrupt that it does not merit our support, patience and assistance. But those wielding this brush have a great deal to learn about Ukraine and what Ukraine is doing right after five-plus years of war.
Under the auspices of the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program, a few weeks ago Ukraine sent a group of talented, committed and exceptionally bright leaders to engage with U.S. counterparts on military veteran support and advocacy. This group of women and men included Ministry of Defense, National Guard and Parliamentary officials, leaders of NGOs and Psychologists, all of whom understand implicitly the challenges that they face and how they must “do right” on behalf of all Ukrainians.
They are leaving nothing to chance meeting with the right people here and at NATO and passing new legislation and budgets to ensure that Ukrainian veterans are not left to fend for themselves. For those doubters who continue to believe that Ukraine is not a serious country, guess again. Ukraine is a serious country. It cares about its people and works to ensure that each and every veteran, be they military or civilian are given an opportunity for a successful future.
Wars have tremendous consequences especially when the territorial integrity of your country is at stake. There have been massive casualties among soldiers and civilians alike and for those who survive the initial physical wounds of this war, there are debilitating and long-term physical and mental injuries that will have lasting effects. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights estimates that 13 thousand people have been killed since the onset of hostilities, a quarter of them civilian. Another estimated 30 thousand people have been wounded.
They say a nation’s mettle is not just proven by sending its people to war, but by what that nation does when its people return. By any measure Ukraine has proven its mettle. What that country, the country that passes on people’s lips these days solely in the context of political debate, has done for its veterans and civilians hurt by this war, is nothing short of amazing. And what is more remarkable is that they have accomplished so much in such a short period of time.
Debra Cagan is a member of the National Security Task Force of the Friends of Ukraine Network, an initiative of the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation.