Nearly a year later, both the Ukraine capital and Ukrainian people are standing strong.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy holds an American flag gifted to him by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday after he addressed a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington. Credit: J. Scott Applewhite / AP

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Ukrainian forces were not expected to hold Kyiv for more than a few days when Russia first invaded its neighbor in February. Yet nearly a year later, both the Ukrainian capital and Ukrainian people are standing strong.

This surprise has been fueled by many factors, not the least of which has been bravery, resolve and hope from the Ukrainian people and their leaders. These traits were front and center as part of another surprise last week, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s unexpected arrival in Washington to meet with U.S. President Joe Biden and deliver remarks to Congress.

Zelenskyy, a former actor, certainly has a flair for the dramatic. In perhaps the most notable example, when offered evacuation early in the invasion, he reportedly responded that he needed “ammunition, not a ride.” His Dec. 21 address to Congress was dramatic in its own right, but quite not at that level. The enormous human tragedy that continues to unfold in Ukraine due to Vladimir Putin’s aggression is dramatic enough.

The wartime leader delivered stirring words about his country’s resilience in the face of this aggression, but he also returned repeatedly to another factor fueling their stand: American support.

“Dear Americans, in all states, cities and communities, all those who value freedom and justice, who cherish it as strongly as we Ukrainians in our cities, in each and every family, I hope my words of respect and gratitude resonate in each American heart,” he said at the beginning of his speech.

Zelenskyy appreciates the billions of dollars the U.S. has sent (and billions more on the way from the newest federal spending bill), surely. But he also wants us to continue that support. And with growing doubt about that continuation based on signals from the incoming Republican House majority, there is no real mystery about the timing of his visit.

Along with his gratitude, Zelenskyy offered a critical perspective — not just about his own country’s struggle, but about America’s past and future. He reminded us about the many ways our country has advanced the cause of freedom, from our struggle for independence in the Revolutionary War to our decisive role in helping the world reject Nazism in World War II. And he was clear that our financial support for his country “is not charity” but instead “an investment in the global security and democracy” as part of his remarks.

Generally speaking, if House Republicans or others are looking for evidence of a return on the U.S. investment thus far, look no further than the fact that Ukraine is still standing.

“Against all odds and doom-and-gloom scenarios, Ukraine didn’t fall. Ukraine is alive and kicking. Thank you,” Zelenskyy told Congress.  “And it gives me good reason to share with you our first, first joint victory: We defeated Russia in the battle for minds of the world. We have no fear, nor should anyone in the world have it. Ukrainians gained this victory, and it gives us courage which inspires the entire world.”

Should Congress and the American people have a clear accounting of where our money is going? Absolutely. That should happen any time billions of dollars are being spent, and despite Zelenskyy’s assurances of the money being handled responsibly, there is an undeniable history of corruption in Ukraine’s government institutions. So there is an extra imperative to make sure this money is ending up where it is supposed to go.

However, vague calls for transparency should not be used to derail what will continue to be much needed support for Ukraine. The same is true for a supposedly “America first” argument that balks at spending money abroad when needs remain unmet at home.

This argument reminds us of another section from Zelenskyy’s speech, when he discussed how many Ukrainians would be celebrating Christmas by candlelight.

“Not because it’s more romantic, no, but because there will not be, there will be no electricity. Millions won’t have neither heating nor running water,” he said. “All of these will be the result of Russian missile and drone attacks on our energy infrastructure.”

Too many Americans spent their own Christmases without power, heat, or shelter. That is not a reason to stop sending assistance to Ukraine; it is a reason to do better by vulnerable Americans.

A great country takes care of its citizens and stands up for its friends, without sacrificing one for the other. Supporting other countries in the face of authoritarian invasion doesn’t diminish American greatness — it advances it.

Solidarity for Ukraine’s continued struggle must not just remain in our hearts and minds, or flying from our flagpoles. It must remain in our budgets, as well.

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The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...