“We haven’t been supported by serious weapons… [We need] not only Javelins, the Stingers. It’s tactical. I mean middle range surface to air missile systems. I mean long range surface to air missile systems. I mean jets. I mean tanks, armored vehicles, ammunition,” Maria Berlinska, a Ukrainian military volunteer who fought in the war in the Donbas as an aerial reconnaissance drone operator, told a small group of reporters over coffee Friday morning in Washington, D.C.
The delegation—made up of former Ukrainian parliamentarians and prominent Ukrainian civil society advocates—has several key requests for the White House and for lawmakers on Capitol Hill this week, including that they buck up and provide more weapons that will actually help Ukraine defeat Russia and drop any illusions that Russian President Vladimir Putin wants peace.
“All we need now is to arm our army and our territorial defense units to be able to prevent more graves in the backyards of innocent people—to prevent more collective graves, to prevent more missiles hitting railway stations,” Daria Kaleniuk, the co-founder and executive director of the Anti-Corruption Action Center, said at the briefing with reporters, which was hosted by the German Marshall Fund of the United States.
The delegation’s visit comes just as Russia attacked a railway station in Kramatorsk that Ukrainian families were using to flee for their lives, killing dozens. The Russians, as they have many times before, blamed Ukraine, without evidence, for the attacks.
On Friday, the U.S. said it would reposition a U.S. Patriot missile system to Slovakia, so Slovakia can help supply Ukraine with an S-300 air defense system.
“Now is no time for complacency,” Biden said in a statement.
But so far, the Ukrainian delegation’s pleas for more weaponry have gone unheeded on Capitol Hill, they said. Some responses they say they’ve received from U.S. officials include claims that the weaponry and equipment they’re requesting won’t help at this point, and that Ukraine doesn’t truly “need” them. But that’s just bunk, the Ukrainians said.
“We heard a lot of justification” for why the U.S. can’t help more, Olena Tregub, the former director for international assistance coordination at Ukraine’s Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, said in response to a question from The Daily Beast.
“Some would say, ‘Oh, it’s because of Europeans. They are lagging behind. They don’t want to give you their Soviet weapons and they require the replacement from us too soon, and we are not able to provide.’ Then we also heard a justification: ‘It’s too late to install air defense systems to protect you.’ No, it’s not too late. Also, we heard something like ‘You don’t need jets.’ No, we need jets. We know that we need jets, our military tells us this.”
“So we are trying to… convince all policymakers that all these things, they are wrong,” Tregub said.
The Ukrainian delegation plans to make similar requests Friday at the White House.
Russia has begun to shift its focus in Ukraine to the eastern part of the country in recent days, following a series of setbacks in its effort to take Kyiv, officials have said. And while Ukrainians have secured some wins—and kicked the Russians out of several cities in Ukraine—the end is nowhere in sight as Russia digs in deeper.
Some lawmakers told The Daily Beast they think now is a great opportunity for the Ukrainians to up the ante and go after Russian forces just as they are most vulnerable—as they shift their forces and change their approach in Ukraine.
“I think the eastern and southern forces will be at greater risk in the weeks ahead. But there’s an opportunity here for the Ukrainians to go on the offensive against those those retrograding forces if they have the capability to do so,” Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO), a member of the House Committees on Intelligence and Armed Services, told The Daily Beast following a classified briefing on Ukraine. “And that’s why getting an additional weapons and equipment support to Ukrainians as quickly as we can so they can take advantage of that.”
When “you’re trying to retrograde your position that is a moment of significant vulnerability,” Rep. Jake Auchincloss, (D-MA), a Marine veteran, told The Daily Beast.
Biden’s National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan warned in a briefing with reporters that the war is headed into a “protracted” state as Russia moves eastward, and that people can expect Russia to commit more atrocities in Ukraine, in all likelihood.
But it might go beyond that, warned Hanna Hopko, who previously served as chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Ukrainian Parliament.
“They’re talking about destroying the whole country, not destroying just patriots but destroying the whole country. And all Ukrainians,” Hopko said Friday. “They will kill Ukrainian elites abroad. So it means people like we all seated here now, temporarily jumping from one capital to another… we will be under attack.”
And it’s an illusion to think that if Russia takes Ukraine, that Russia will simply stop.
“It’s very naive to think that if Putin will take Ukraine… he will stop it will be just… the source to attack again” in other countries, Berlinska warned.
The Ukrainians will argue at the White House Friday that some of the resistance to providing more weapons makes no sense from what they’re seeing on the ground. And one of their central questions will be: If the war is going to continue with no end in sight—and the Biden administration truly wants to help secure a win against Russia—why not jumpstart preparations for a “protracted” fight now and provide the weapons and equipment the Ukrainians will need for a decisive win?
We “have to start training for using more advanced weapons now. If you had started that 43 days ago, some of the weapons we could have already learned and if you had started to deliver it… it could have been already in the southeast of Ukraine,” Kaleniuk said.
“Why there was no scenario of Ukraine winning?” Kaleniuk asked, referring to predictions that Russia would take Kyiv in 72 hours. “And I hope there is already a scenario of Ukraine winning. We proved that with our blood.”
“It’s 44th day of war which we supposed to lose on the third day. I think we proved to the world that we are not going to lose and we are not going to surrender—because we know if we surrender then there will be concentration camps for Ukrainian people,” Kaleniuk added. “And Putin is not even hiding what he’s going to do with Ukrainians. It’s a genocide and elimination of the entire nation.”
National Security Council staff discussed military, economic, and humanitarian assistance with the Ukrainian delegation Friday, a White House official told The Daily Beast after the meeting, adding that the S-300 announcement wasn’t specifically timed for this meeting. The National Security Council staff also discussed efforts to hold Putin accountable for war crimes, sanctions, and export controls, the official said.