Intel

Ukrainians React to Zelenskyy’s Historic Washington Trip

December 22, 2022Nolan Peterson
Zelenskyy Washington

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy meets with President Joe Biden in Washington on Dec. 21, 2022. Photo by Office of the President of Ukraine.

KYIV, Ukraine — With Russia’s penchant for morning missile and drone attacks, it’s wise to go to bed early these days in Ukraine. Even so, many Ukrainians gambled a good night’s sleep on Wednesday, staying up past midnight to watch coverage of their president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in America’s capital city.

“Ukrainians understand what an honor it is that Zelenskyy was received by the American leadership right before Christmas," Dmytro Prokopchuk, a political consultant who lives in Kyiv, told Coffee or Die Magazine.

"In my opinion, this is a very important sign, it emphasizes not only some kind of alliance or international support, but the consolidated bond of Western civilization in the face of current hardships — coming potentially not only from Russia, but from many autocracies. From the shores of California to the steppes of Donbas, united we stand.”

Zelenskyy

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addresses Congress on Dec. 21, 2022. Photo by Office of the President of Ukraine.

During his first trip outside Ukraine since Russia invaded in February, Zelenskyy met with President Joe Biden at the White House on Wednesday, and then gave a stirring address before Congress, spoken in English, in which he declared that after 10 months of full-scale warfare, Ukraine remains “alive and kicking.”

With its invasion forces under pressure from Ukrainian counteroffensives, Moscow has made civilian suffering a key military objective. To that end, Russian missile and exploding drone strikes have steadily chipped away at Ukraine’s national power grid, as well as other utilities. Periodic blackouts have become a new staple of life in cities across Ukraine.

During a joint press conference with Zelenskyy on Wednesday, Biden highlighted a $1.85 billion security package for Ukraine, including a battery of Patriot air defense missiles. He also pledged that the US would support Ukraine “as long as it takes.”

Olena Osmolovska, a business executive who lives in Kyiv, said she felt “immense gratitude” for American assistance — especially when it comes to air defenses.

“Russia launched over 1,000 missiles at our energy infrastructure in the past two months,” Osmolovska said. “Most of the missiles were neutralized by our air defense. Therefore, the American support of our armed forces very literally translates into another hour with electricity, or a couple degrees of heat in my home in Ukraine. Zelenskyy is doing his job by campaigning for more support, and he is doing it well.”

Zelenskyy

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy meets with President Joe Biden in Washington on Dec. 21, 2022. Photo by the Office of the President of Ukraine.

Illya Ayzin, a business manager from Dnipro, described Zelenskyy’s visit to Washington as “historic,” and a “global event.”

“For Ukrainians, it inspires hope and confidence in the future, and in the preservation of their independence as a state and their lives as citizens,” Ayzin told Coffee or Die. “We understand that the decisions taken at these negotiations will bring our difficult victory over Russia closer … this was a symbol of the inflexibility of the two nations in the face of the aggressor.”

Zelenskyy’s Washington visit came at a pivotal moment. The ground war remains mired down in a bloody standoff, and Russian missile and drone strikes have cut off power, heating, and water supplies for millions of Ukrainians, creating a looming humanitarian disaster as frigid winter weather sets in. Against that backdrop, Ukraine’s top military commanders warn that Russian forces may be regrouping for another offensive this winter, including a possible attack on Kyiv from Belarus.

Thus, Zelenskyy is preparing his nation, and his supporters in Washington, for another tough year of fighting. With Congress rushing to pass an omnibus bill before Christmas, which includes $45 billion in military assistance for Ukraine, Zelenskyy delivered a twofold message to US lawmakers on Wednesday. He expressed his gratitude for America’s lifeline of military assistance, while also making the case for continued aid to save Ukraine and defend democracy worldwide.

“Your money is not charity. It is an investment in global security and democracy that we handle in the most responsible way,” Zelenskyy said in his address to Congress.

Zelenskyy

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy arrives in Washington on Dec. 21, 2022. Photo by the Office of the President of Ukraine.

Zelenskyy also underscored that he was not asking for direct US intervention in the war against Russia.

“Ukraine never asked American soldiers to fight on our land instead of us," he said. "I assure you Ukrainian soldiers can perfectly operate American tanks and planes themselves."

Hryhorii Perepelytsia, an international relations professor at Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, described Zelenskyy’s address to Congress as a “speech of planetary scale.”

“It can be compared to Churchill's speech at Fulton, where he called for stopping communism's expansion into the Western world,” Perepelytsia told Coffee or Die, referring to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

“Back then, [Churchill’s] speech made Americans rethink the existing threats,” he said. “Today, Zelenskyy also called for a fight to defend the democratic world. Zelenskyy's peace formula concerns not only Ukraine, but also the preservation of the rules-based international order.”

Prokopchuk, the political consultant who lives in Kyiv, said he was surprised by Zelenskyy’s trip to America, especially since it followed a daring visit on Tuesday to the front-line city of Bakhmut, the war’s most intense battlefield.

“But at the same time, it feels somehow very natural that he went to Washington,” Prokopchuk said, adding that many Ukrainians celebrated Zelenskyy’s decision to wear olive green fatigues to his Washington events — a move that symbolized how the war has disrupted normal life at every level of Ukrainian society.

“I see from the Ukrainian segment of social media that people were really worried that Zelenskyy might change his military-ish garment to something more formal during the visit,” Prokopchuk said. “But everyone was relieved when he came into the Oval Office in his usual wartime attire. I didn't think about how much this means symbolically, but I am also glad that Zelenskyy maintains this constant reminder that, ‘There is a war in my country, things are different, no time for formalities.’ This is one of the most Ukrainian things about his whole attitude.”

Zelenskyy

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks at a press conference with President Joe Biden in Washington on Dec. 21, 2022. Photo by the Office of the President of Ukraine.

Olga Ivashchenko, a digital creator who lives in Kyiv, described Zelenskyy’s Washington visit as “historic,” and “very important for Ukraine and for our partners.”

“Yes, we need more heavy weapons and missile defense systems — more and more — for protecting our citizens, cities and infrastructure facilities,” Ivashchenko said, adding that her home remains without power.

“No electricity at home, but it’s our reality now,” she said.

The scope of Russia’s invasion encompasses far more than the physical front lines — it also includes every Ukrainian home and family. Thus, in addition to securing military assistance from the US and other Western partners, maintaining Ukraine’s national morale is another essential part of Zelenskyy’s wartime leadership.

Ludmila Negriu, an osteopath who lives in Odesa, said she was proud of the way Zelenskyy represented Ukrainians’ resilient spirit to the American people.

“We all believe in the victory of good over terrible evil,” Negriu told Coffee or Die. “The civilian population suffers greatly from the cold and rocket attacks. But we will never give up. My mother, born in 1941, weaves camouflage nets for the army every day. There are many women, children, and old people with her. We will all fight to the end.”

“Once again, many thanks to the American people for their help and support,” Negriu added. “We will never forget this.”

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Naseem inspects debris from a destroyed Russian tank on a roadside in Peremoha, Ukraine, in April 2022. Photo by Nolan Peterson/Coffee or Die Magazine.

Ayzin, the business manager from Dnipro, said Zelenskyy’s visit to Washington reinforced his faith in Ukraine’s victory, despite the dark days ahead.

“How many Ukrainians will be left alive by the end of the war depends on the quantity and quality of military assistance for our army,” Ayzin said. “It is very difficult for us. Many Ukrainians live, as they say, 'one day at a time,' because we do not know at what minute or on what day a missile from terrorists will arrive. But we still live with faith in victory, because we feel and believe in the unwavering support of Ukraine from the USA and its partners.”

Osmolovska, the business executive from Kyiv, also foresees another hard year in store for 2023.

“Ukraine will survive, the question is only in how much suffering it will take,” she said. “Understanding what is to come makes me bitter. The support of the US is essential to reduce the suffering.”

Read Next: The Story of Ukraine’s ‘Survived’ Wines

Nolan Peterson
Nolan Peterson
Nolan Peterson is a senior editor for Coffee or Die Magazine and the author of Why Soldiers Miss War. A former US Air Force special operations pilot and a veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Nolan is now a conflict journalist and author whose adventures have taken him to all seven continents. In addition to his memoirs, Nolan has published two fiction collections. He lives in Kyiv, Ukraine, with his wife, Lilya.
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