'My Body Shows You The Price': Ukrainian Vets Make Case For Renewed Aid

WASHINGTON — Oleksandr Batalov, a Ukrainian army veteran, had a simple answer when asked what happens when a unit runs out of artillery shells on the battlefield.

“If we had proper artillery support in the battle where I was, I would still have my leg,” he said through an interpreter. “After the injury, I was lying on the ground for six and half hours, waiting to be evacuated.”

Batalov is part of a group of Ukrainian vets and service members who met with lawmakers, American veterans and Pentagon officials in recent days as part of a project called The Message on the Frontline. The initiative is aimed at raising awareness of the continuing war in Ukraine.

“My body shows you the price when there is lack of proper support,” Batalov said during an appearance with other vets Wednesday at the Ukraine House cultural center in Washington.

The group was in Washington at a pivotal time, as a foreign aid bill that would send about $48 billion of weapons and $8 billion in economic aid to Ukraine, which is facing shortages of artillery and ammunition, is hung up in the House because of Republican opposition.

Initially, Ukraine was to get a smaller tranche of aid at the end of September, but Republicans ripped it out of a temporary spending bill at the last minute. Then in February, a carefully negotiated bill that would have boosted border security in return for approving the aid was killed when Senate Republicans refused to support it after GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump said he opposed it.

Instead, the Senate passed a narrower bill with 70 votes that provided aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. That bill has not been taken up by House Republicans.

President Joe Biden is likely to press Republicans to move on the package in his State of the Union address Wednesday evening. Biden ripped House Republicans for taking a break in February instead of taking up the Senate bill, saying, “We can’t walk away now. That’s what [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is betting on.”

In the meantime, Ukraine has suffered setbacks on the frontline stemming in part from a growing Russian logistical advantage, including in artillery shells. Ukraine lost the strategic town of Avdiivka recently, after having held it for 10 years.

Dmytro Finashyn, a second lieutenant in Ukraine’s National Guard, said lack of artillery makes it more dangerous for frontline soldiers.

“If you don’t have that, you have to send your soldier with a rifle to go there and fight in contact. And so a human life becomes a replacement for a product made of some metal and gunpowder,” Finashyn said through a translator.

“Of course those two things are incomparable, human life and that projectile that’s being produced,” he said.

Liudmyla Meniuk, a recently discharged sergeant who served in the eastern Ukraine town of Bakhmut, said lacking artillery or grenades for launchers is terrifying.

“If you have nothing but the AK rifle in your hands, you understand that this is going to be your last battle,” she said through a translator.

A small group of House Republicans is working with a similarly small group of House Democrats to try to force a bill to the floor that would have aid and some border provisions important to Republicans. But the method to force a vote, called a discharge petition, takes time and would require a majority of House members to sign.

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Penn.) said Wednesday the process of gathering signatures could begin as early as Friday. But he said he wants to give House leaders a chance to come up with a bipartisan bill that could differ from his group’s.

“To be clear, the discharge petition that I filed is putting a clock on a time- sensitive matter. That is all this is,” he said.

The Ukrainian military service members, perhaps mindful of the political landscape, declined to criticize Republicans for being the biggest factor in the aid holdup.

“Both the Republicans and the Democrats seem to accept, now agree that this is not only needed for Ukraine, but for the world at large,” Finashyn said.

But even if Ukraine is ultimately denied U.S. weapons — most of which would come from weapons in storage that would be replaced by newer, better arms — the group members said Ukrainians would continue to fight on, regardless.

Batalov, the amputee, said his wife once asked him if he had known he would lose a limb, would he have still gone to war.

“I said, ‘yes,’” Batalov said. “Because this is my country and because it’s about defending my wife, my other family and my nation.”