Ukraine’s ambassador to US: ‘We need to win,’ but need ammunition now

WASHINGTON — Next week could prove pivotal for Ukraine, as U.S. legislators reconvene following the Easter break. One of the most pressing topics for discussion is President Joe Biden’s supplemental request, which includes $61 billion for Ukraine. Without these funds, U.S. aid to Ukraine will have de facto halted.

Meanwhile, House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson has indicated a potential willingness to provide weapons to Ukraine on loan. Would this address Kyiv’s immediate needs? What are the repercussions of delaying this aid? And what are the prospects for its swift approval? We discussed this with Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S. Oksana Markarova on Thursday.

The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

VOA: Madam Ambassador, since the very beginning of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, you’ve been advocating for more help from the American partners. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy once reportedly said, “I need ammunition, not a ride.” And today, as Russians are gathering their troops and may be getting ready for another offensive, what does Ukraine need to stand strong?

Oksana Markarova, Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S.: Well, nothing has changed, and it will not change until we win. So, from President Zelenskyy to defenders on the front line to everyone, including myself here in Washington, we have only one message: We need to win. And for that, we need more weapons, more ammunition, more support for Ukraine and more sanctions, isolation and bringing Russia to justice.

Right now, we’re at a pivotal moment in this fight. During the past two years, we have been able to liberate 50% of the territories. Last year, we literally liberated the Black Sea. We’re conducting very successful strikes against the Russian military, but we are not yet at the point where we can claim victory, and that is solely due to the availability of weapons and support. So, we must stay the course. We have to continue doing what has worked before. And we must do more.

VOA: President Biden has said multiple times that Ukraine has support among Republicans and Democrats on the Hill. However, the supplemental [aid package] has not resulted in a vote, mainly due to a couple of legislators, including Speaker Johnson. When President Zelenskyy visited Washington, you participated in a meeting with Mr. Johnson. I’m curious, what did you have to say to convince him to pass this legislation?

Markarova: We do have strong bipartisan support, and not only do we feel it, but we know it. We are talking to so many people on the Hill and to ordinary citizens, and we hear strong expressions of support from everyone, including Speaker Johnson. I mean, he was publicly supportive of why Ukraine needs to win.

Now, this year has been difficult, and I know that’s not an excuse; it’s just that we have to work harder. This is the fifth supplementary package; four of those we had during the last two years. And not all of them were easy to pass. But this one started as the Ukraine supplementary; it was during Speaker [Kevin] McCarthy’s time, then there was a change of speakership, then there were discussions about a joint supplementary. So, there were many issues which are very important for the United States, not related to Ukraine. We were made part of the package, which delayed discussions on this Ukrainian supplementary bill at different stages.

Now, since February, when the Senate passed a supplementary package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, there has been very active discussion on the Hill. We just needed that support yesterday. And I think the majority of people in the House also understand it. So, we all look forward to next week when the House will come back after the recess. And I really hope, as we heard Speaker Johnson saying, that this is going to be one of the first things that the House will start discussing. We need decisions.

VOA: As you said, the political environment in Washington, D.C., is quite dynamic. So, you had to talk to multiple speakers and the speakers have changed over the last year, a couple of times. How do you deliver those messages regarding Ukraine’s needs? Is it hard to find this human-to-human contact with them?

Markarova: Well, it’s a big team that works on it. And as you said, President Zelenskyy met with Speaker Johnson when he was here. They just had a very good phone call last week. But when I talk to people, whether it’s the speaker’s office or any senator’s, congressman’s, administration, anyone, I don’t think it’s hard to find a style, as you said, of how to talk.

Ukraine is just sharing what really happens on the ground. You know, truth is our best weapon, as we say. We don’t need to come up with ways to say it. We are just informing our friends of what’s going on and why it is important for all of us to win. Putin says publicly that his goal and intent did not change. He wants to destroy us. Everyone understands that this war was unprovoked, that he attacked us for no reason at all. It’s a genocidal, terroristic war of an autocratic state against a peaceful, democratic, much smaller neighbor.

VOA: Do Americans understand the Ukrainian pain here?

Markarova: Yes. When you explain it to them, yes. The problem is getting information to them. Because there is so much going on, and when you are not on TV, sometimes you disappear from the discussion. And frankly, people in some areas ask me whether the war is still ongoing. I don’t mean to criticize them. I’m … saying we have to remind people about us.

That’s why all the brave journalists we have in Ukraine keep working. It’s because of them people throughout the globe were able to see what’s happening, and we have already lost, as you know, more than 70 people in Ukraine. They were journalists, camera people. Russia targets them.

VOA: Ambassador, Speaker Johnson indicated recently that he may be willing to consider a loan to Ukraine, say, a Lend-Lease Act 2.0. However, the State Department has criticized these efforts saying that it’s not acceptable to put more burdens on Ukraine during the war. In the light of this dire situation on the front line, would Ukraine consider this option of getting a loan instead of the supplemental?

Markarova: The Lend-Lease Act, adopted in 2022, addressed a portion of the military support provided during the presidential drawdown. This allowed the United States to provide not only grants through PDA from their own stockpiles but also lease or loan items. What is being discussed now, and again, there are several options, but in general, it’s to provide support to Ukraine in the form of a loan. We’ve heard about 0% loans, long-term loans, among other options. We will see the actual proposal when it’s presented.

Of course, we would be grateful for any type of support. Grants are preferred over loans because they also contribute to our macroeconomic and public finance stability. However, if the United States decides to provide aid in the form of a loan, especially budget support, it will be more challenging and have more implications than a grant. Nevertheless, it will be much better than receiving no assistance.

We are very grateful to the U.S. for not only providing us with help for two years but also providing it in the form of grants, as you know, while other partners mostly offered concessional loans. So, that is also a viable option.

VOA: Ambassador, I’m curious, what is the first thing you plan to do once the war is over? If you can share that. Have you ever thought about it?

Markarova: Oh my God, I never thought about that. I think we all will be so happy and glad. I will probably just take a day off to watch movies and sleep for as long as I can. But jokes aside, I don’t know.

Again, right now, victory is the goal for all of us. But when we win the war, our task will not be over. The very next second, we’ll have to continue working on not only rebuilding but also bringing Russia to justice. And that’s a comprehensive, very big task that a large team in Ukraine, again, led by the president, but with the prosecutor general and all investigators, are doing. And you know, continue working, continue serving the country, continue doing what we can in order to win the peace.

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