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Orest Deychakiwsky

UKRAINE ADVOCACY WITH CONGRESS MORE ESSENTIAL THAN EVER

 

Grassroots advocacy with the U.S. Congress by Ukrainian Americans and all of Ukraine’s many other American friends may be more important now than it ever has been.

The priority in the coming weeks will be to ensure that Congress provides Ukraine with the military and other vital assistance that is essential to defend itself and defeat Russia. The U.S. President Joe Biden has requested $24 billion in additional (supplemental) funding for Ukraine. Congress must act soon, as there is little time before existing funds run out.

Since the onset of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russia in February 2022, bipartisan majorities in both the House and Senate have voted in favor of the four previous supplemental appropriations packages totaling an unprecedented $113 billion. Unfortunately, there is opposition to Mr. Biden’s supplemental aid request from mostly right-wing House Republicans who wish to reduce, or, in some cases, even eliminate this assistance. Expect drama ahead in the next few weeks, especially as Ukraine aid will likely be linked one way or another to the larger battle over government funding, which runs out on September 30.

Everyone who cares about Ukraine should contact their Senators and Repre­sentatives at this crucial moment and urge Congress to pass the additional funding expeditiously. Tell your friends and relatives to do so as well. More on what you (yes, you!) can do on this and other Congressional Ukraine-related legislation later.

A plethora of important Congressional initiatives addressing Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine have been introduced in the current Congress. They range from resolutions calling on the administration to immediately provide ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile Systems) to Ukraine, to supporting Ukrainian victory through specific measures (the Ukraine Victory resolution), to condemning Russia’s kidnapping/illegal abduction of Ukrainian children, to a bill providing for the designation of Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism and another one designating the Wagner Group a Foreign Terrorist Organization.

While all pro-Ukraine legislative initiatives deserve our support, allow me to highlight two, and also raise the issue of passage of the supplemental assistance previously outlined.
First is the bipartisan Rebuilding Economic Prosperity and Opportunity for Ukrainians Act (REPO) that has been introduced both in the House (H.R. 4175) and in the Senate (S. 2003). The bills authorize the secretary of state to provide additional assistance to Ukraine by using assets confiscated from the Russian Federation’s Central Bank and other sovereign assets.

As a result of Russia’s war of aggression, there are more than $300 billion in Russian sovereign assets frozen globally. Ukraine’s recovery and reconstruction will easily cost hundreds of billions of dollars. As responsibility for the war lies squarely with Russia, it should bear the bulk of the costs in compensating the victims – the Ukrainian people. Three former high-ranking U.S. officials with considerable expertise on the issue – Lawrence Summers, Philip Zelikow and Robert Zoellick – summed it up perfectly in a June Foreign Affairs article titled “The Other Counteroffensive to Save Ukraine – A New European Recovery Program.”

“Transferring frozen Russian reserves to Ukraine would be morally right, strategically wise and politically expedient,” the authors wrote.

Also worthy of our support are resolutions in both the House (H. Res. 154) and Senate (S. Res. 72) on “Recognizing Russian actions in Ukraine as genocide.” These resolutions explicitly condemn the genocide of Ukrainians and support “tribunals and international criminal investigations to hold Russian political leaders and military personnel to account.”

According to many leading experts, Russian actions in Ukraine constitute genocide under the seminal 1948 Genocide Convention. Various reports, including an updated one by the New Lines Institute and Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, reveal documented evidence of all five acts explicitly prohibited in the Convention: killing, serious bodily and mental harm, inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about the victims’ physical destruction, measures to prevent births, and the forcible transfer of children. The Convention requires not only acts but also “genocidal intent” – i.e., “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.” Regarding intent, there is little doubt that Russia has engaged in direct and public incitement to commit genocide through the denial and destruction of Ukrainian identity, history, culture and language, the use of dehumanizing rhetoric about Ukrainians, including equating Ukrainians to Nazis and traitors. By spewing hatred toward the Ukrainian people, they are conditioning Russians to justify and commit genocidal acts against Ukrainians.
This fall, Ukrainians the world over will solemnly commemorate the 90th anniversary of Moscow’s earlier genocide against Ukraine – the Holodomor. Senate and House resolutions in recent years have explicitly called this unspeakable tragedy a genocide. A House resolution has been introduced in the current Congress marking the 90th anniversary, which, of course, deserves support. But I strongly believe that another fitting way to commemorate and honor the victims of the Holodomor would be to push for passage of the resolutions condemning the genocide taking place in Ukraine right now. Their passage would send a strong signal of the moral necessity to support Ukraine.
So, what can you do to advocate for Ukraine and support the above-mentioned legislation? You can arrange meetings with staffers in the district offices of your Senators and Representatives. You can come to Washington to participate in the Razom-organized Ukraine Action Summit that will take place on October 22-24. Since the war began, these Action Summits as well as the Ukrainian National Information Service’s (UNIS) Ukraine Days – a longstanding tradition – have been successful in bringing together hundreds of advocates from around the United States to meet with their elected representatives. Indeed, April’s three-day Ukraine Action Summit saw more than 300 people from 34 states representing 62 organizations meet with their legislators.
Of course, not everyone can participate in D.C. advocacy events. But what every individual can do is call, write or email their Representative and both of their Senators not only to urge passage of the Ukraine supplemental funding but also to encourage them to co-sponsor Ukraine-related legislation such as REPO and the genocide resolution.
In contacting elected representatives, individuals can keep it simple and straightforward. Ideally, a substantive, compelling letter is best but any communication, even if brief, is far better than nothing. Thank them for their past support of Ukraine, which in most cases is warranted (although I encourage individuals to research what their elected officials have done for Ukraine). Here’s one way to learn about a particular bill or resolution: Go to the website Congress.gov, type in the title or number (e.g., “Recognizing Russian actions in Ukraine as a genocide” – H. Res. 154 or S. Res. 72) and you will find relevant information, including a list of cosponsors. If your Representative or Senators have already joined as cosponsors, it’s a nice gesture to thank them. If not, request that they become a co-sponsor.
Better yet, contact Razom or UNIS – or preferably both – for advocacy-related questions and information, including messaging guides and sample letters that can be used or modified if needed. Contact Razom at communityengagement@razomforukraine.org. For certain campaigns, such as urging a yes vote on the supplemental funding request, Razom uses an advocacy tool that makes the process of sending a message to lawmakers exceptionally quick and easy. For UNIS, individuals can contact sawkiw@unis.com. Both organizations will include you on their mailing lists. Also, both have websites and a presence on social media.
As someone who saw first-hand the importance of grass-roots advocacy during my 35 years at the bipartisan, bicameral U.S. Helsinki Commission, let me leave you with the following thought: By reaching out to your elected officials, you are doing more concretely to help build support for Ukraine than you might realize.


Orest Deychakiwsky may be reached at orestdeychak@gmail.com.