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Putin must not win, Democracy must prevail

As one of the only members of Congress to have stayed overnight in Ukraine since Russia’s unprovoked attack in February, I’ve witnessed the 24-hour cycle of a capital city finding energy through every-day routine. I travelled to Kyiv to participate in the Yalta European Strategy Conference, where President Volodymyr Zelensky and senior Ukrainian officials cautioned that the next 90 days might determine the outcome of the war in Ukraine, and that winter will be difficult. The purpose of our meetings was to discuss with our NATO allies how we can continue to support Ukraine and end Russia’s war of choice. 

Critically, we discussed the urgent need to start planning for Ukraine’s economic recovery, a plan that Ukraine must lead and one that won’t be cheap. The World Bank estimates that recovery and reconstruction costs for Ukraine currently total $349 billion. But before reconstruction begins, global partners, including the IMF and our European allies, must remain steadfast in their pledges for budgetary support. Financial assistance is just as important as the security assistance that Washington has been faithfully providing. Kyiv needs $5 billion-$6 billion in monthly budget support to keep its finances afloat and to pay its teachers, doctors, pensions and more. Ukraine is expected to run up a budget deficit of $38 billion in the coming year, and experts and officials in Kyiv expressed concern that Ukraine may soon hit a hyperinflationary cycle. Putin wins if Ukraine’s finances fall apart.

Make no mistake — even as allied nations send vital military aid, enduring economic commitments will be necessary for years to come. This is a mandate that the United States and any global partner who cares about peace and stability in Europe must readily meet. 

For conference participants, security was tight, and understandably so. Russian President Vladimir Putin remains indiscriminate in his attacks, sending missiles to target civilians in schools, apartment buildings, and railway stations. As recently as July 28, six Russian missiles landed outside the capital, injuring civilians. Several air raid warnings went off while I was there, but Ukrainians remain unfazed. Bomb shelters in Kyiv are empty. I felt relatively safe as I walked Kyiv’s busy and heavily trafficked streets — shops are open and restaurants are bustling. Approximately 80 percent of Kyiv’s residents have returned. Experiencing a city that, seven months ago, was at risk of Russian occupation is a reminder of how precious our freedoms are, and how dependent they are on our determination to defend them. This was all too apparent after a visit to Bucha, where we saw one of the mass graves sites and bore witness to evidence of war crimes committed by Russian soldiers. 

Resistance comes in many forms, and everyone is pitching in. For the brave Ukrainian troops on the battlefield, it’s the relentless defense of their sovereign territory. For some citizens off the battlefield, resistance is mobilizing volunteers to deliver food, building bomb shelters in schools, and administering basic first aid. Resistance is also coming to Kyiv, despite the risks, and reassuring the men and women on the front lines of democracy that we stand with them, and we will continue to stand with them. More than two hundred days since the Kremlin launched its major military escalation in Ukraine, the spirit of resilience that fills Kyiv and its inhabitants is inspiring.  

As we sat in central Kyiv, Ukrainian forces recaptured more territory than the Russians had in the previous five months. Ukraine’s counteroffensive was stunning and Ukrainians told me how surprised they were by its rapid success. 

I don’t deny the magnitude of the challenge that lies ahead, and the war is far from over. President Zelensky expressed gratitude to me and others for western mobilization for Ukraine. But as long as Russian forces remain on Ukrainian sovereign territory, the U.S. and our allies must continue to provide Ukraine with all of the military tools it needs. I look forward to supporting that critical aid in upcoming funding packages being brought before Congress and urge my colleagues to do the same. But we must also be aware that allied support for mid-term and long-term economic recovery plans are vital for the survival of Ukraine. 

Now is a seminal moment in American and world history. Our actions today to protect our democratic way of life will determine our future success as a nation in the 21st century. Guided by the resilience and bravery of Ukrainians, and for the sake of the free world, it is critical that Ukraine prevails. This is the test of our time — we must rise to meet it. 

Jim Costa represents California’s 16th District in the U.S. House of Representatives. He is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and serves as the U.S. Chairman of the Transatlantic Legislators’ Dialogue, an interparliamentary group between the U.S. House of Representatives and the European Parliament.

Tags economic assistance to ukraine Jim Costa Russia-Ukraine war ukraine reconstruction Vladimir Putin Volodymyr Zelensky

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