Two U.S. senators from opposite sides of the aisle traveled to Ukraine this week to meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as Russia’s invasion of the country stretches into its fifth month.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Sen. Richard Blumemthal, D-Conn., touched down in Kyiv on Thursday to meet with Zelenskyy, who both expressed his gratitude for the United States’ military and humanitarian assistance while also asking the lawmakers to support his ask for modern air defense systems.
"First of all, we appeal to you so that the Congress supports Ukraine in the matter of supplying modern air defense systems,” Zelenskyy told Graham and Blumenthal, per a readout of the meeting released by his office. “We must ensure such a level of sky security that our people are not afraid to live in Ukraine."
The United States have given approximately $6.9 billion in military, security and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine since Russia first invaded on Feb. 24, including over 1,400 Stinger anti-aircraft systems, over 6,500 Javelin anti-armor systems and 20,000 other anti-armor systems and hundreds of Switchblade Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems, per the Pentagon.
The most recent $820 million in aid included two National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems, co-produced with Norway, which is the modern defense system Ukraine has been requesting for several months.
“...It's important for us to be able to start to help the Ukrainians transition their air defense system from what is now a Soviet type system, to be able to introduce some of this modern technology,” officials from the Department of Defense said in early July.
During his meeting with Sens. Graham and Blumenthal, Zelenskyy said Ukraine aims to bring women and children back to the country by September, stressing the need to ensure proper security in order to do so.
"The number one task for us today is for women with children to be able to return to Ukraine by September 1, so that children can go to school, so that students do not leave and can go to universities,” Zelenskyy said. “It is very important for us to do two things - to repair schools, universities, and also to have a powerful air defense.”
To date, over 8.7 million people have fled Ukraine as refugees since the start of the war, according to the United Nations, which also estimates that children make up over 40% of people displaced both within and outside of Ukraine. As of July 3, the U.N. recorded 11,152 civilian casualties within Ukraine, including 4,889 killed and 6,263 injured.
It will likely take years for Ukraine to rebuild from the destruction wreaked on the country by Russia as forces still attempt to take over the country.
To that end, Sen. Blumenthal co-sponsored bipartisan legislation that would affirm “the American people’s commitment to rebuilding Ukraine” by, in part, remaining “committed to ensuring the long-term peace, prosperity, and territorial integrity of Ukraine” after the war has ended.
The legislation also “encourages the United States Government to lead an international group of allies that will equitably contribute to provide the Government of Ukraine and the Ukrainian people with a reconstruction assistance package for the purpose of increasing ties between nations that are seeking a stable international order to counter malign and rogue actors.”
Separately, Graham and Blumenthal introduced legislation that calls on the Department of State to recognize Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism. Currently, there are only four countries who have been given such a designation by the U.S. government: Cuba, North Korea, Iran and Syria.
Countries designated as such are subject to a number of limitations, which include “restrictions on U.S. foreign assistance; a ban on defense exports and sales; certain controls over exports of dual use items; and miscellaneous financial and other restrictions,” per the Department of State.
“Putin’s Russia deserves this designation,” Sen. Graham said in a May statement introducing the legislation. “We should be all-in on making sure that Putin’s Russia is marginalized as long as they engage in this behavior. This resolution sends a strong message to Ukraine that we are listening and we agree that Putin runs a nation that is a state sponsor of terrorism.”
The senators discussed the legislation with Zelenskyy on Thursday, per the president’s office, and he in turn “thanked the senators for this important activity.”