During the week of March 9-12, the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation held two meetings with a visiting delegation of Ukrainian veterans, American veteran-supporting activists and the Ukrainian American Veterans to discuss ways of expanding assistance to Ukrainian veterans and their families through synergy and improved coordination amplifying the efforts of activists, volunteer groups, government and other stakeholders.
The Ukrainian veteran’s delegation consisted of Oleksander Tereschenko (former Deputy Minister of Ukraine’s Veteran Affairs Ministry and “Cyborg” defender of Donetsk Airport) Yana Zinchenko (Ukrainian Parliament Member, army support volunteer and injured former service woman) and Svyatoslav Yurkiv (Chaplain of the International Peacekeeping and Security Center in Western Ukraine). They thanked their U.S. partners for continued support of Ukrainian servicemen and women and veterans noting the importance of building government capacity for providing defenders and their families with adequate and effective protection programs.
According to Mr. Tereschenko, during the six years of Russia’s hybrid war against Ukraine, more than 4,700 military men and women died and over 13,000 suffered severe injuries becoming disabled veterans, including more than 500 limb amputations.
Ukrainian veterans’ typical problems are “lack of trust in the government, shortfalls in medical assistance and mental rehabilitation, no place to live, poor employment prospects, struggling post-traumatic stress and aftereffects of neurological damage, family conflicts and divorces” resulting in more than 1,000 veterans’ suicides, according to rough expert estimates in the absence of official statistics. Among other concerns are the shortfalls of support infrastructure for service women and female veterans as well as an artificial decrease of war casualties and injures statistics resulting from amendments to the Methodology of Fight- and Non-Fight-Related Injuries and Casualties passed in October 2019. While the number of victims of Russian aggression does not decrease but increases in reality, the amended methodology excludes many cases from counting and strips them of the right for social protection and benefits.
The task of government is to utilize veterans’ integrity and solid sense of duty, enabling them to become an asset, not a burden to society. An important step on the way will be creating a unified veterans database by IREX as a part of a $5 million support program of the U.S. Department of State aimed at improving services for Ukrainian veterans and promoting their reintegration into the workforce. Defenders deserve to be remembered and supported, not abandoned.
Photo at top of page: Ukrainian veterans address an audience on Capitol Hill. (Credit: Embassy of Ukraine in the USA)