A Ukrainian soldier spoke to Insider about his meetings with US lawmakers this week.
The soldier, who deploys to the front lines next month, said many don't know how aid money is spent.
His message: "We don't want to be colonized…. We want to live in a democracy."
WASHINGTON, DC — Vitalij Boiko was working in real estate when the bombs started falling. From the business of buying and selling property, he pivoted to defending it, serving in the Ukrainian armed forces amid the Battle of Kyiv, back when just about everyone thought a Russian victory was just a matter of time.
"When the war started, my family left to Great Britain," he told Insider. "I went to the recruiting station."
Now serving in Ukraine's National Guard, Boiko's current brigade spans infantry on the eastern front to antiaircraft units that continue to guard the capital from Russian missiles and Iranian drones. This week, however, he's engaged in warfare of a different sort — politics — even if, technically, he's supposed to be on leave and resting up for another deployment.
"I am on vacation now because I'm going to the front lines with the brigade in two weeks," he told Insider as the sun set on the Washington Monument, where earlier about 150 activists attending a pro-Ukraine advocacy summit in Washington unfurled what organizers claimed was the world's largest blue-and-yellow flag. But he's actually working, meeting with members of Congress to share his perspective on the war and why he thinks his country's defense is still worth supporting.
It's an intervention that comes as Republicans in the House — who will control the next year's legislative agenda — are split down the middle on whether Ukraine's fight is also America's. So far, Boiko said, the meetings have been enlightening.
"It's been very useful and interesting because nobody knows that financial help to Ukraine doesn't go directly to Ukraine," he said. "They think that they gave so much money directly to Ukraine and they can't see where [it] is now. But it doesn't go directly to Ukraine. It's still in the United States. It's only old equipment that's going directly to Ukraine — and it's not enough when we have a huge front line, more than 10,000 square kilometers."
The United States has provided cash to Ukraine: over $26 billion to support the country's public spending. But a "good portion" of the $113 billion in total aid marked for Ukraine has indeed been "spent in the States, or on US personnel," according to the Center for Strategic & International Studies, a think tank in Washington. A majority of weapons and equipment transferred to Ukraine have been from existing stocks, which Congress has appropriated $26 billion to replace, a figure the Biden administration hopes to increase with its latest proposal of $61.4 billion in new aid.
Boiko said that while some in the United States may be on the fence about more aid, he wants Americans to know that people like him are determined to keep fighting.
"Every soldier in the trenches knows that he is fighting for his family, for his kids, and for freedom. We don't want to be colonized…. We don't want to be wealthy slaves. We want to live in a democracy," he said. "If you don't want to participate, to not lose your life on the front line, please give us equipment, and we will protect you."
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