«If Only We Had Such Assistance in 2014»: What Residents of Eastern Ukraine Say About Biden and U.S. Aid to Ukraine

How do the people of front-line Donetsk oblast feel about American support during the threat of a full-scale Russian invasion?

Unprecedented U.S. assistance to Ukraine in the fight against Russian aggression / collage from photos by uc.od.ua, ТАСС

2014. Ukraine, which experienced a turning point in its history during the Revolution of Dignity, faced hybrid Russian aggression, elements of which began in fact long before that. The rapid annexation of Crimea and the occupation of part of Donetsk and Luhansk regions — essentially the outbreak of war in the very heart of Europe — became the apogee of the Russian Federation's impudence. Armed conflict in Ukraine has gradually become a hot topic in the foreign media and a subject of discussion at the highest political levels. In conditions of maximum and heroic internal mobilization of Ukrainian society, the country was in dire need of external support.

The United States has become one of Ukraine's key partners. U.S. assistance to Ukraine since 2014 totals over $ 3.7 billion, plus three $ 1 billion sovereign loan guarantees. The USA invests in almost every area: security, the economy, humanitarian aid, public sector development, infrastructure, and more.

Eight years ago, then U.S. President Barack Obama chose a «soft power» course in foreign policy, relying on diplomacy, imposing sanctions on Russia, and providing our country with comprehensive assistance, which, however, did not include the supply of lethal weapons. For this, he was repeatedly criticized, in particular, by his successor Donald Trump. Under his leadership, such weapons were finally delivered.

2022. Since January, Ukraine has received more than 1,300 tons of ammunition, military equipment, and weapons from the United States, including the world's most efficient Javelin anti-tank missile systems. Instead, U.S. President Joe Biden has launched a powerful campaign to consolidate the world amid the looming threat of a full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine. We are witnessing unprecedented pressure on Kremlin leader Putin. Today, any possible plans of the Russian Federation immediately are leaked and become public.

Practical training for the Joint Forces Operation soldiers with American instructors / photo: ArmyInform Practical training for the Joint Forces Operation soldiers with American instructors / photo: ArmyInform

Since January, Ukraine has received more than 1,300 tons of ammunition, military equipment and weapons from the United States / photo: Facebook Oleksiy Reznikov Since January, Ukraine has received more than 1,300 tons of ammunition, military equipment and weapons from the United States / photo: Facebook Oleksiy Reznikov

What is the opinion of the residents of the front-line Donetsk oblast about the role of the United States in deterring Russian aggression? After all, they can see the results of consistent support for the region by the United States and have the opportunity to compare its scale in 2014 and now. Details — in the «Vchasno» article.

Andrii Hrudkin, Executive Director of the «On the Collision Line» Coalition, Toretsk

Andrii Hrudkin (Toretsk) Andrii Hrudkin (Toretsk)— I appreciate the support of the United States, regardless of who is currently the President. This is a state that carries the principles of freedom and democracy on its flag, and has really been and is a partner № 1 for Ukraine. Why do I appreciate the support? Because this is military assistance, international technical, diplomatic support — without which it would be frankly difficult for us to resist a monster like Russia and its hybrid aggression in any form.

In our region, I see the participation of the United States in supporting Ukraine, first of all, through donor assistance. The USA always acts strategically. They are developing civil society, laying the foundation for Donbas to be free. Today, civil society in Donetsk oblast, and I can say without pathos, is more patriotic and active than in many other regions of the country.

Secondly, it is an educational activity. The United States teaches us how to effectively manage territorial communities, implement various cultural projects, support independent media, and freedom of speech to counter Russian propaganda.

The USA supports civil society in Donetsk oblast / photo: USAID Economic Resilience Activity Project The USA supports civil society in Donetsk oblast / photo: USAID Economic Resilience Activity Project

Both Joe Biden and Barack Obama are Democrats. But not all Democrats, like Republicans, are the same. And Obama, the man who came to power in peacemaking rhetoric, could not or did not want to assess the threats posed by Russia in connection with the invasion of a sovereign, independent state. He did not want to deal with collective security, including in Europe. The fact that Putin now acts like this, among other things, is the result of Obama's policy. When Crimea was annexed, all we saw were financial sanctions against Russia — which did not work, no matter how much we wanted to. Russia still has a strong economy, they continue to make Europe dependent on gas, and they can afford actions like these.

Biden is more determined. He understands what American society demands of him. And makes more decisive steps and statements. And I really liked one of his last statements that this story, this war, is not about Russia and Ukraine. This is about the future of collective global security.

Anna Murlykina, Editor-in-Chief of www.0629.com.ua Website, Mariupol

Anna Murlykina (Mariupol) Anna Murlykina (Mariupol)— I believe that we do not really know and understand what happened, and continues to happen. What the United States has done these days, I think, together with the United Kingdom, is a special operation that we have witnessed. Why was the leadership of our country not informed about the details of this special operation? I think this is a matter of trust of the United States to Ukraine, and, in fact, to the President of our country, who is unable to keep his own promises, which he gave to Joe Biden during the meeting. I mean support for the creation of effective leadership of anti-corruption bodies, namely the National Anti-Corruption Bureau.

But we are seeing results. In fact, the Russian Federation had the ground cut out from under its feet, it had practically no room for maneuvers.

I see the purpose of this special operation of the United States and Great Britain in uniting the civilized world in the fight against Russia. Because what have we had so far? Italy, Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, which were very loyal to Russia, their elites were corrupted by Russia. All this prevented the effective defense of the European values of the free world. What happened now is a special operation that was able to unite Europe around Ukraine and against aggression and great injustice. I think this is the most important result of the events of recent days.

And about the economic losses, about which the country's leadership and even the deputies in Mariupol talk a lot. They say it’s wrong to constantly spread this kind of information (about a possible attack). But if you imagine another course of events: no one knows and does not expect an attack from Russia on February 15, 16, or another day. And Russia attacks. And then we will lose much more than from warnings about war. Unfortunately, no one is talking about it.

Not only sanctions but also the weapons that Ukraine has received now are what we really needed in 2014. I believe that if Europe and the United States had reacted in this way to the annexation of Crimea, we would not have a war in Donbas. I have almost no doubts about that. Unfortunately, history does not have a «what if» principle. And we have to live in this reality. At that time, there was a lack of understanding, courage, or unity.

Roman Balaboiko, Deputy Chairman of the «Union of Anti-Terrorist Operation Veterans of Donbas» NGO, Kramatorsk

Roman Balaboiko (Kramatorsk) Roman Balaboiko (Kramatorsk)— Many thanks to our partners for their help with weapons. Although it has not yet been tested in real conditions, looking at its tactical and technical characteristics, we can speak about the psychological moment for the invaders, so that they think ten times whether to drive their scrap metal to our Ukrainian land.

In general, U.S. foreign policy for me now seems more pragmatic and tougher against Russia. It is very pleasant that they were the first to take such a step as the supply of lethal weapons to Ukraine. And then Great Britain, Poland, the Baltic countries, and other states made a step on providing us with military support.

The difference with 2014 is felt even in the tonnage of aid that our allies are sending us by planes. If at the beginning of the war it was assistance with vehicles and medical equipment, now it is a lethal, high-precision weapon that allows to hit hostile targets with minimal losses on the part of our defenders.

This support has strengthened our Armed Forces. The state of the Armed Forces of Ukraine compared to 2014 is completely different. Now it’s a very powerful force. And it's not just about weapons. These are logistical capabilities, and the command and control system of the Armed Forces, and NATO standards being introduced in the army. In my subjective opinion, if in 2014 the Ukrainian Armed Forces were in this state, then the occupation of Donbas would not have happened.

Yevheniia Kaluhina, Director of the Museum of Local Lore, Slovyansk

Yevheniia Kaluhina (Slovyansk) Yevheniia Kaluhina (Slovyansk)— I like speaking about practical things. And I see how, thanks to the help of the American people, our region, our country can develop and change for the better.

For eight years, donor companies have been supporting small and medium-sized businesses, media, and civil society in Donetsk oblast. It is very important that investments flooding into the development of the public sector. To me, this seems like a powerful process to promote democratic change in Ukraine. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) began to influence the development of territorial communities, their activities became more significant, the authorities finally began to hear them. From my own experience, I can say that the project activity in one of the NGOs was a personal step forward. New knowledge, skills, and habits.

USAID is an independent agency of the U.S. federal government. The main areas of work include support for trade, agriculture, economic growth, health care, emergency humanitarian assistance, assistance in conflict prevention, and support for democracy in more than 100 countries around the world.

They fund cultural projects. In 2016, «The Museum is Open for Renovation» project has been implemented in the region with the support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). (The goal is to unite and consolidate the communities in order to popularize local historical and cultural features not only in the community but also outside it; to strengthen the potential of museums' development, to involve them in the development of new content that reflects the unique stories of a local character).

Therefore, help is manifested in completely different things. The grain that was planted in 2014 is slowly growing. In order for it to grow into a strong oak, let's say, it still takes time. But we are already seeing the first results.

USAID Projects in eastern Ukraine / photo: USAID Economic Resilience Activity Project USAID Projects in eastern Ukraine / photo: USAID Economic Resilience Activity Project

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