Ukrainians Wait, Nervously, to See if U.S. Will Provide Critical Aid

From the bloody trenches of the battlefield to crowded cities battered by Russian bombardments, millions of Ukrainians waited in nervous anticipation as the United States Congress prepared, after months of delay, to decide if America will resume providing their country with critical military support.

Private Pavlo Kaliuk, who has been fighting to slow the Russian advance after the fall of the city of Avdiivka in eastern Ukraine earlier this year, was on his way to the funeral for a fallen soldier when reached by phone on Friday.

“I am walking and thinking that maybe it’s my friend who died at war, who is up in the sky now, who will help the world and United States to support Ukraine,” he said.

Ukraine cannot rely on divine intervention; instead it is counting on the House of Representatives to approve a $60 billion aid package on Saturday.

President Volodymyr Zelensky has made the stakes clear, saying this week that without American support his country could not win the war. William J. Burns, the C.I.A. director, was even more blunt when asked what happens if American military assistance does not resume.

“I think there is a very real risk that the Ukrainians could lose on the battlefield by the end of 2024, or at least put Putin in a position where he could essentially dictate the terms of a political settlement,” he said on Thursday in remarks at the Bush Center Forum on Leadership in Dallas.

Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, said there was “no plan B” if the aid measure fails.

“There has been so much controversy and debate around this bill — and there still will be — so let’s just wait for the result,” he told reporters.

At a gathering in Capri on Friday, representatives to the G7, comprising the world’s wealthiest democracies, vowed to find a way to support Ukraine and, in particular, to bolster Ukraine’s air defense capabilities to save civilian lives and protect the country’s infrastructure.

Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO secretary general, said the military alliance has compiled data about the air defense systems available and is working to redeploy some to Ukraine.

“There is a need now to ensure that we have a more robust and institutionalized framework around the support for Ukraine,” he told reporters in Italy.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, also speaking in Italy, said “Putin thinks that he can outwait Ukraine, and outwait Ukraine’s support.”

“The message coming out of Capri is: He can’t,” the secretary said.

Congress has not approved a new military support package for Ukraine since October. While the Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill that bundled $60 billion for Ukraine together with assistance for Israel and Taiwan, it stalled in the GOP-controlled House. The Republican speaker, Mike Johnson, has broken the package into a series of bills in an attempt to maneuver around members of his own party staunchly opposed to helping Ukraine.

If the tactic works and the measure is approved, Pentagon officials have said military supplies can begin flowing into Ukraine immediately.

While the debate in Washington has played out over the past six months, the momentum in the war has shifted decidedly in Moscow’s favor. The civilian death toll is also growing as Ukraine runs out of air defense interceptor missiles to defend against daily Russian aerial assaults on critical infrastructure in densely populated cities.

On Friday, at least seven civilians, including two children, were killed in missile strikes in the Dnipro region, including one that hit near the main railroad station in the city Dnipro. Another four civilians were killed in shelling of villages near the front line in eastern Ukraine, officials said.

Mr. Kuleba, the foreign minister, called U.S. aid “a matter of life and death” adding, “And in a broader sense, it’s a matter of Ukraine’s survival.”

In interviews with soldiers and civilians across the country over two years of war, Ukrainians often assert, with deep conviction, that their fight is part of a broader global struggle. Failure to confront and defeat Russia now, they say, will mean more bloodshed later, and American assistance is not charity but in the strategic and financial interests of the United States.

“Our planet is very small, and we all depend on each other,” Private Kaliuk said. “Those who thought that this war is not theirs are mistaken.”

Pavlo Velychko, an officer with a Territorial Defense brigade fighting near the Russian border, said renewed American support would do more than provide critically needed ammunition and advanced weapons systems.

It would boost morale at a moment when Ukrainian forces are struggling and exhausted.

“The positive result of the vote will be felt by everyone in the armed forces,” he said. “From the soldiers to the officers.”

In the meantime, Ukrainians have made it clear they would continue to fight.

The Ukrainian military on Friday said it destroyed a Russian Tu-22M3 long-range strategic bomber involved in Friday’s attacks, which would be the first successful destruction of a strategic bomber in the air during a combat mission.

While the claim could not be independently confirmed, the Russian governor of the Stavropol Territory confirmed that a bomber crashed in a field about 185 miles from Ukraine.

It was not clear what weapon Ukraine might have used to shoot down the bomber; Kyiv has been working to expand its own arsenal of long-range weapons and bolster its own domestic arms industry.

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