Ukrainians in Triangle react to House foreign aid vote: "My life changed completely."

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Monday, April 22, 2024
Ukrainians in Triangle react to House foreign aid vote
Saturday, the US House passed an expansive foreign aid bill which includes approximately $61 billion towards Ukraine.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Saturday, the US House passed an expansive foreign aid bill which includes approximately $61 billion towards Ukraine.

"It's vital for Ukraine's survival, and it's certainly vital for Ukraine's victory," said Triangle resident Olena Kozlova-Pates of US assistance.

Kozlova-Pates, who grew up in Ukraine, serves as Executive Director of Ukrainians in the Carolinas.

"(My family and I) connect digitally every day. Of course, it's not the same as being able to visit and hug and talk and connect on that level. But again, what we have right now is enough for right now," explained Kozlova-Pates.

Since Russia's invasion in February 2022, there have been more than 10,000 civilian deaths and about 20,000 others injured.

"Schools, libraries, art galleries and museums, hospitals, maternity wards, the humanity just doesn't exist within the aggressor. So that is obviously incredibly challenging," said Kozlova-Pates.

"It's about Ukraine existing or not. And I mean, we don't have many options. We have to fight," added Nataliia Bondarenko, who was living in Mariupol in February 2022.

In 2014, when Russia initially invaded the country, Bondarenko volunteered at a military hospital. While she did not have plans to leave the country, she ultimately did so, ending up in the Triangle with her son.

"My life changed completely. The first year here in the United States was not super easy, but I think it's getting better," Bondarenko explained.

She now serves as an International Education Program Coordinator at UNC.

"We're super grateful for the support we have from such a country that values democracy and freedom as much as we do," Bondarenko said of the House vote to provide further funding.

Of the $61 billion, about 1/3 is for replenishing US weapons systems, nearly $14 billion towards purchase of US-made weapons, and more than $9 billion in forgivable loans for economic assistance.

"It will better our own economy. It will supply our own military forces, the greatest military force in the world with new equipment. And it will also provide some of our old equipment to our Ukrainian allies and some of the ammunition to them as well. So it's a win-win situation. I'm very grateful," said Kozlova-Pates.

Speaker Mike Johnson brought the bill to the House floor despite strong opposition from within his own party.

"Would we appease Vladimir Putin much like Hitler was appeased and allow him to take Ukraine and then see the domino effect of that? It was a Churchill moment for Mike Johnson to understand that the Ukrainians are fighting with everything that they have to protect and defend their country and that if Ukraine falls, the next country may be a NATO country," explained Rep. Deborah Ross, a Democrat who supported the legislation.

In a statement, Rep. Richard Hudson, a Republican who serves as Chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee wrote:

"Vladimir Putin is an evil dictator who has clear ambitions to rebuild the old Soviet Empire. His unjustifiable and unlawful invasion of Ukraine is just one part of his plan. If Putin is successful in Ukraine, he will seek other territory, which risks drawing the United States into a war in Europe. That is why, while I don't support everything in the Ukraine bill, I do support providing lethal aid and weapons needed to fight back against Putin."

Shortly following the House vote, President Joe Biden spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to "underscore the United States' lasting commitment to supporting Ukraine as it defends its freedom against Russian aggression."

Kozlova-Pates notes she and others have been reaching out to the offices of Senator Thom Tillis and Senator Ted Budd to urge them to support the bill.

"It's critical. The equipment itself is incredibly important. Obviously, you need to have the ammunition to fight this aggression. The Ukrainian army is standing strong," said Kozlova-Pates.

SEE ALSO | 2 years following Russia's invasion, Ukrainians in Triangle support, raise funds for home country

On Saturday, the Ukrainian Association of North Carolina is hosting a vigil and rally at the Old Capitol in downtown Raleigh, an event that is open to the public.