In the summer of 1940, when Great Britain was fighting Nazi Germany alone, Winston Churchill asked to borrow a few dozen aging American destroyers to defend the English coast from imminent invasion. Churchill wrote to Franklin D. Roosevelt: “Mr. President, with great respect, I must tell you that in the long history of the world, this is a thing to do now.”
Today Ukraine is fighting Russia alone. American aid—never timely or sufficient, but enough to help keep Ukraine alive and Russian invaders at bay—is about to run out. U.S. shipments will stop in the next few weeks. Without American artillery, ammunition, missile systems, tanks, armored vehicles, humanitarian aid, or funds for reconstruction, Ukraine will be left to face the Russian onslaught with diminishing odds of survival. The Biden administration has asked Congress to vote for another $61 billion in aid for Ukraine. So far, Republicans are refusing. Members plan to leave D.C. for the holidays on December 15. This is a thing for them to do now.
On Thursday, I spoke with two Ukrainian soldiers—the senior intelligence officer of an artillery brigade and a middle-aged volunteer private—who have been fighting constantly on the front lines. Both soldiers told me that Ukrainians are anxiously following the news from Washington. “I really hope that people in the U.S. can understand that this is not only war for Ukraine and the Ukrainian people,” Yuriy Matsarsky, the private, said. “It’s really war for democracy, it’s war for a better world, it’s war against dictatorship, it’s war against modern fascism.” Ukrainians are not asking other countries to send troops, he added. “We only need some metal things to save Ukraine.”
The phrase stuck with me. I had just watched a new documentary, 20 Days in Mariupol, about the Russian siege and destruction of the Black Sea port at the start of the invasion. The film, made by Associated Press journalists who barely got out of Mariupol with their lives, shows in overwhelming detail the effect of metal things on human flesh. The body of a teenage boy, both legs blown off while he was playing soccer, lying under a bloody sheet as his father cradles his head and cries, “Son, son, son, son!” A pregnant woman with a gaping wound in her hip rushed by stretcher from a bombed maternity hospital (neither she nor her baby survived). Doctors unable to revive a small child on an operating-room table while his mother collapses outside in the hall, asking, “You couldn’t save him? But why? Why? Why?”
I wish that 20 Days in Mariupol could be screened for a joint session of Congress. The end of American aid will not end the killing and dying in Ukraine. It will only allow Russian missiles to turn more cities into the hell of Mariupol, and Russian troops to inflict more agony on civilians under occupation. It risks making the immense Ukrainian sacrifices and achievements hollow. Vladimir Putin has never shown any desire to negotiate an end to the war, and now he can smell victory—perhaps not the total elimination of independent Ukraine that he sought in February 2022, but the conquest of the Donbas, the reconquest of territory Russia seized and then lost, and the steady demoralization of the Kyiv government and its allies. For the West to abandon Ukraine now would allow Russia and its authoritarian friends in China, Iran, and North Korea to believe that the 21st century is moving their way—into a future of brutal armies, cowed populations, and endless lies. [Continue reading…]