Rep. Jeff Evangelos, I-Friendship, listens to debate at the State House in Augusta on Wednesday June 30, 2021. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

AUGUSTA, Maine — Two lawmakers held out as the Maine House approved a pro-Ukraine resolution on Tuesday, with one echoing debunked Russian propaganda by saying President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s military has been “taken over” by neo-Nazis.

The symbolic resolution from Rep. Rebecca Millett, D-Cape Elizabeth, easily advanced through the House on Tuesday and will likely do the same in the Senate. It says Maine supports Ukraine in its fight to remain independent and democratic, citing key elements of its history since a 1991 vote declaring the country free from the Soviet Union.

It focuses on Russia’s recognition of two pro-separatist territories as independent republics, which has been seen as the pretext for Russia invading Ukraine. Those regions have been in sporadic combat with the Ukrainian government since Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.

The two holdouts were Reps. Jeff Evangelos, I-Friendship, and John Andrews, R-Paris. Before the vote, Evangelos said he opposes the invasion but did not agree with the resolution’s characterization of Ukraine because of a connection to neo-Nazis, American involvement in training Ukrainian troops and because he supports the separatist regions’ independence.

The claims of widespread neo-Nazism in the military and that ethnic Russians face “genocide” in Ukraine have been central to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s pretextual reason for the invasion. But there is no evidence of either. Experts have said his claims distort history and amount to a pretext for the war.

The argument has gained traction among some far-right members of Congress, including U.S. Rep. Majorie Taylor Greene, R-Georgia. The freshman questioned in late March whether the $14 billion in emergency aid would “fall into the hands of Nazis in Ukraine.”

On Tuesday, Evangelos, typically a progressive member who often bucks Democrats from the left, said Western media is not presenting the truth of the situation.

“There’s two sides to this story, and it’s the fog of war, and we’re only getting one side here,” he said. “This is all about regime change.”

Andrews, a Republican and former Libertarian, was the only member to speak against the resolution during the vote. He warned colleagues against supporting anything that could lead to more military involvement by the U.S. and said Biden’s economic sanctions against Russia will hurt poor people and disrupt the global economy.

“American escalation is not the answer,” he said.

Millett, a former Peace Corps member, recalled a 1991 visit to the country prior to its independence vote where she said she saw the determination of its people up close while speaking in favor of the resolution, which awaits further action in the Senate.

“As we gather here in the State House, engaged in a debate of ideas and policies, let us be grateful for the privilege to serve our communities and the state of Maine without fear of reprisal, of invasion, of destruction and death,” she said.