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Warren Buffett's son Howard has given $500M to Ukraine — he warns the US is making a historic mistake by pulling its support

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Howard Buffett in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Howard Buffett in Kyiv, Ukraine.The Howard G. Buffett Foundation
  • Business Insider interviewed Warren Buffett's son about his  support for Ukraine.

  • Howard Buffett's foundation has given $520 million to Ukraine in humanitarian aid.

  • The philanthropist warns the US will make a historic blunder if it fails to support Ukraine's war effort.

Two years after Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the embattled nation needs its friends more than ever.

Russia celebrated a landmark victory when it captured the eastern town of Avdiivka last week, and it is running low on artillery ammunition. Meanwhile, a $60 billion military aid package is snarled up in Congress due to opposition from some Republican Party lawmakers.

But Howard Buffett, the elder son of Warren, the billionaire investor and Berkshire Hathaway CEO, has no intention of forsaking Ukraine or its President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

The wartime leader and American philanthropist have a profound mutual respect.

Buffett told Business Insider, "There are very few people in the world that could step up" and do what Zelenskyy's done. "I think he's a pretty amazing guy," he said.

As a result, Buffett's Howard G. Buffett Foundation has emerged as a stalwart ally to Ukraine since Russia's full-scale invasion, injecting $521,779,225 into humanitarian assistance for Ukraine as of January 2024.

The US and its 'Ukraine fatigue' problem

"The guy's got to be worn out," Buffett said of Zelenskyy. "I don't know when he sleeps. He just is constantly going. He's been through two years of war, which is a living hell, and he's dealing with it every single day."

"He's got to deal with each ministry and keep them focused. He's got to keep the economy working. He's got to be engaged on the military side. So to me, he's somebody who has stepped up and done a job that I think very few people could do," said Buffett.

"I don't think anybody could have done a better job," he said, observing that "it's an incredible force that he's up against."

While Buffett worries about Zelenskyy's exhausting schedule and sleepless nights, he is also concerned about "Ukraine fatigue" affecting its most important ally, the United States.

He warned against it last year and continues stressing the importance of supporting the war effort.

"People lose interest over time, so keeping this going is tough. And it's going to be one of the biggest mistakes that the United States makes historically if we don't continue to support Ukraine.

"The most frustrating part is to watch the narrative in the US because you have congressmen and senators whose constituencies or districts are benefiting from this war," he said.

Putting his money where his mouth is, Buffett said another $300 million is budgeted for Ukraine this year, and for the last two years, the foundation exceeded the budgeted number.

The foundation is largely funded by his father, Warren Buffett's contributions. Warren Buffett is the seventh richest person in the world, boasting a net worth of $138 billion.

'You have to step up big'

In December, Zelenskyy and Howard Buffett visited a Kyiv plaza adorned with plaques honoring Ukraine's most steadfast supporters during Russia's full-scale invasion to show the US philanthropist that his name is also etched on the "Walk of the Brave."

Zelenskyy told Buffett: "You are among these world leaders — friends of Ukraine."

Buffett calls the war the "largest humanitarian crisis" that he's witnessed in his lifetime.

Cars pass by destroyed Russian tanks beside a road
Cars pass by destroyed Russian tanks close to Kyiv, Ukraine, in May 2022.AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky

"When Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, I felt like it was one of those situations where you have to step up right away, and you have to step up big."

His foundation focuses on conflict mitigation and food security, issues that converge in Ukraine.

By the end of 2024, the foundation will give Ukraine at least $800 million in humanitarian aid.

The massive contribution will total more than most countries' humanitarian aid to Ukraine as of yet. The UK has contributed $620 million and the Netherlands has provided $780 million, per the Kiel Institute's Ukraine Support tracker. The foundation's contributions already trounce Canada's — the NATO country, which has a significant Ukrainian diaspora, has given $292 million in humanitarian aid.

"Anybody who feels that Ukraine doesn't need our support is failing to recognize what Zelenskyy is leading his country against, and it's it's an incredible force that he's up against," Buffett told BI.

Buffett attributes the US' dwindling support for Ukraine to politics. It was standing in the way of supporting a country "that is fighting for its freedom, its democracy, its sovereignty," he said.

To Buffett, the only choice America has is to ramp up support: "Either we stand with NATO and fight, which is what I think the only option is, or if we say we're not going to support NATO, we are going to be in a world of hurt down the road."

American billionaire Howard Buffet (L) receives advice from his Ukrainian security while wearing body armor and a helmet on the frontlines on June 15, 2023, in Zolota Nyva, Donetsk district, Ukraine.
American billionaire Howard Buffet (L) receives advice from his Ukrainian security while wearing body armor and a helmet on the frontlines on June 15, 2023, in Zolota Nyva, Donetsk district, Ukraine.Paula Bronstein.

Buffett's foundation has helped revitalize agricultural infrastructure, aid civilian areas affected by conflict, replace shattered windows, facilitate mine clearance efforts, and provide vital equipment for security officials and healthcare facilities.

The foundation began by providing food kits to recaptured territories on the eastern front in 2022. They also dedicated themselves to de-mining efforts and boosting local agriculture by providing equipment, seeds, fertilizer, and vegetable seeds for home gardens.

Buffett called Ukraine's current food insecurity crisis "ironic" given its reputation as the "breadbasket of Europe."

"You're standing there giving food to somebody who all their life has produced food for other people," he said.

"Ukraine was one of the largest suppliers to the World Food Programme for food assistance worldwide, so it really disrupted their process when the war broke out," he observed.

'The world is less safe now than it was before Putin invaded Ukraine'

On a humanitarian mission, Howard G. Buffet (left) shakes hands with Kherson Governor Oleksandr Prokudin as they hold a meeting concerning reconstruction efforts after the devastating floods, on June 20, 2023, in Kherson, Ukraine.
On a humanitarian mission, Howard G. Buffet (left) shakes hands with Kherson Governor Oleksandr Prokudin as they hold a meeting concerning reconstruction efforts after the devastating floods, on June 20, 2023, in Kherson, Ukraine.Paula Bronstein.

Howard Buffett said that while he speaks to his father about the situation in Ukraine extensively, he intends to keep those conversations private.

But Howard Buffett has lent his voice to political advocacy, speaking out to support Ukraine and advocating for increased international support and military aid to the war-torn country.

"The world is less safe now than it was before Putin invaded Ukraine, and it will be much less safe if Putin is successful with Ukraine. And obviously, Zelenskyy sees that, and the people in Ukraine are living that," said Buffett.

Howard Buffett in Ukraine.
Howard Buffett in Ukraine.The Howard G. Buffett Foundation

Howard Buffett had previously met with Zelenskyy in Kyiv in 2022, Business Insider's Theron Mohamed reported. At the time, Buffett gifted Zelenskyy his old badge from his tenure as sheriff of Macon County, Illinois.

"You're the top lawman here in Ukraine, so I'm giving you my old sheriff badge from when I was sheriff," Buffett said. "So no one can question you're number one."

Correction: February 24, 2024 — In an earlier version of this story, Warren Buffett's name was spelled incorrectly in the headline.

Read the original article on Business Insider