Zelensky is facing a Valley Forge moment
Facing the deadly threat of freezing temperatures and starvation at Valley Forge, George Washington famously wrote, “unless some great and capital change suddenly takes place in [the supply] line, this Army must inevitably be reduced to one or other of these three things. Starve, dissolve, or disperse.”
Today in Ukraine, winter has begun, and President Volodymyr Zelensky faces his own Valley Forge as millions of Ukrainians are confronting months without heat, electricity, or basic sustenance. To help meet this challenge, America must immediately act to cut through the bureaucracy and politics to deliver the billions in humanitarian aid that has yet to reach the border.
Congress has approved an astonishing $54 billion in emergency funding to Ukraine, a necessary amount as we help an ally defend democracy not just for their nation, but the world as a whole. While defense funding has made its way to the front lines, the humanitarian front remains another story.
Unfortunately, money is being tied up in bureaucratic nightmares. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, deployment of these kinds of funds can “take many years to spend out … money Congress appropriates in year one does not get fully spent until year five.”
This is in no way to suggest that the U.S. has not provided enough funding — this is about whether humanitarian funds are able to reach the Ukrainian people fast enough.
According to USAID, as of Dec. 2, just $25 million has been spent on humanitarian aid in Ukraine, a drop in the bucket considering how much aid has been approved. While most of this funding was earmarked for defense aid, that still leaves billions in humanitarian aid that has not been deployed yet.
Under a regular barrage of Russian missile attacks and shelling the Ukrainian people face a horrific start to the winter, where critical infrastructure from power generation, to schools, hospitals and civil institutions have been targeted depriving civilians of heat, electricity, food and health care. These Putin atrocities, deemed as “war crimes” by the Pentagon, are meant to break the will of the Ukrainian people by freezing them to submission.
According to DTEK, Ukraine’s largest private-sector power company, the attacks have knocked out almost 50 percent of the country’s electricity supply. This was but a minor inconvenience for us, but a daily trial for millions of desperate Ukrainians. Some who are living close to the border are forced to walk back and forth carrying whatever medical and other supplies are urgently needed.
The Ukrainians are paying an unimaginable price to stand up for freedom against the forces of tyranny and have displayed unbelievable courage and perseverance. But the uncertainty that death could rain down on you from above while you kneel at a religious service, stand in line to buy scarce groceries, walk across the street, or simply huddle together sleeping in cold basements, along with surviving landmines, ice and snow, clearly takes its toll.
The scale of the human tragedy unfolding in Ukraine is unthinkable. The world has not witnessed a tragedy so devastating in Europe since World War II. As of Sept 23, 7.4 million Ukrainian refugees were recorded across Europe and almost 1.5 million Ukrainians registered for temporary protection in Poland. Without humanitarian aid, this situation will only worsen in the coming months.
Today, over 1.5 million Ukrainians are still in Poland — the nation’s hospitality and generosity make it an unsung hero of this crisis — with many of them residing in the cities of Rzeszow, Przemysl Gdansk and Wroclaw. While President Zelensky’s administration is creating reconciliation centers throughout the nation, counties in Western Ukraine are straining to provide services to the influx of citizens from the east. I was informed by Gov. Viktor Mykyta’s Chief of Staff, Vitalii Matii, that they had to make immediate accommodations for over 64,000 new residents in the province of Zakarpattia Oblast.
America has stood by Ukraine from day one of the Russian invasion and our generosity and unwavering commitment to preserving their independence will be essential to ensuring victory. Sadly, too much of our humanitarian aid, assistance that has already been approved and accounted for, is being held up at precisely the time it is needed most.
Ukraine faces a Valley Forge moment. Our shared commitment and belief in democracy gives America the opportunity to lead the world through example. While private foundations and donors have stepped up their efforts, it is imperative that government funding be released immediately to address the dire humanitarian needs in Ukraine.
Earle Mack is a former United States ambassador to Finland. He is a partner with the Mack Company, a real estate development and investment firm, and a trustee of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, an interfaith partnership of business and religious leaders promoting freedom, democracy and human rights in countries around the world.
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