President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke before the United States Congress on December 21, 2022. He brought with him the thanks—and the stories—of a people traumatized and exhausted from defending themselves against Russia’s brutal assaults. At the same time, he highlighted the confidence and determination of Ukrainians to win the fight for their democracy.
Dressed in Army green and camo, Zelensky had just come from the battlefield near Bakhmut, where Ukrainian defenders had suffered heavy losses but continued in the fight. Ukraine, Zelensky told the members of Congress, is “alive and kicking.” He was greeted with a standing ovation.
Evoking shared struggles for freedom
Zelensky’s speech, delivered in English, incorporated references to great times that tried the souls of Americans in generations past.
He spoke of the Battle of Saratoga, a turning point that halted the British advance and helped the US gain much-needed foreign support. He also spoke of the Battle of the Bulge in 1944 when battle-weary American troops held off what had seemed an overwhelming German advance in the Ardennes Forest. He spoke of Ukraine in the present, as his citizens faced Christmas by candlelight because the Russians had cut their electricity.
Ukrainians rising to the moment
Ukrainians will never forget February 24, 2022. This date marks the first day of the Russian invasion, and at the time, most of the world assumed Ukraine would not have the resources, the skill, or the will to sustain a long fight.
Ukraine has since proved them wrong.
For months, the rest of the world has seen harrowing footage showing brutal Russian attacks on Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure—down to ruined and looted homes and villages—and received documentation of the atrocities inflicted on Ukrainian soldiers and civilians. But we’ve also been inspired by the courage and the will of the Ukrainian people in defending themselves and surviving, from a grandmother throwing a jar of pickled tomatoes to bring down a drone to the endurance of men and women risking and losing their lives on the front lines.
Investing in security and democracy
Zelensky noted that Ukraine’s struggle for its freedom from a tyrannical foreign government will be a key turning point in the global history of democracy. He said, “Your money is not charity. It is an investment in the global security and democracy that we handle in the most responsible way.”
Zelensky arrived in the US, his only known foreign trip during the year-long war, not only to meet with Congress but to request additional aid. Ukraine, he said, is grateful to the US for the significant support it has received so far, but more remains to be done if his country is to conclude the war decisively and contain its neighbor’s aggression.
“Ukraine fatigue” is mostly a myth
One of the reasons Zelensky traveled to the US was to bolster the American public’s support for his beleaguered country. A poll taken in early January showed that, contrary to the opinions of some pundits, Americans’ support for Ukraine remains generally high.
Some earlier polls showed support for military and financial aid to Ukraine waning, particularly among Republicans. But overall, more than half of the American public has consistently expressed confidence in backing Ukraine since the beginning of the war.
Experts point out that divisions on issues of US participation in international conflicts have always skewed partisan, with the Vietnam War being a notable example. But, as Foreign Policy magazine noted in January 2023, overall support for Ukraine among the public and elected officials remains surprisingly bipartisan.
In May 2022, the US Congress passed bipartisan legislation providing more than $40 billion to Ukraine in the form of both dollars and weapons. The Fiscal Year omnibus spending legislation for 2023 added another $47 billion, bringing the total committed across four pieces of legislation in the past year to $113 billion in economic, humanitarian, and military assistance.
That sounds like a lot, but in reality, it’s a small part of the defense budget.
So while members of both the far-left pundit class—supporters of peace at any price—and the radical-right fringe of the Republican Party have been notably anti-Ukraine, evidence for “Ukraine fatigue” among the broad range of the American public is pretty weak. The fact remains that Ukraine is doing all the fighting, and to date has backed up Zelensky’s statement that America’s “investment” is likely to pay off over the long term by strengthening democracy in a global sense.
“We stand, we fight, and we will win”
When he concluded his speech to Congress, Zelensky unfolded a Ukrainian battle flag given to him by the defenders of Bakhmut, the frontline of the battle against Russia. He handed the flag to then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who had personally visited Ukraine half a year before. On that visit, amid a tragic and traumatic evacuation of the captured city of Mariupol, Pelosi pledged unwavering American support.
Zelensky said his troops specifically asked him to take the flag, bearing their signatures, to the US as a show of gratitude for the military aid they had received.
“We stand, we fight, and we will win,” said Zelensky, “because we are united.” And by that, he meant not only Ukrainians but their allies around the world.