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The American front of the war in Ukraine


I spent the seven weeks before Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in kyiv, preparing for a film that I was co-directing with Sean Penn. Like many Americans in January 2022, I mispronounced the name of Ukraine’s capital and assumed that Ukraine would be like every movie I had seen about the Eastern Bloc: cold, hard and very Russian.

To my surprise, kyiv was busy, bustling and full of energy. The bars were open late, live music was everywhere. I had assumed that there would be a definitive divide between the “right” and the “left” in their politics – each side being diametrically opposed, like in the United States. I also thought people would be afraid to speak on camera for fear of retaliation. Didn’t Putin put polonium in his detractors’ almond milk latte? Ukraine must be the same, right?

What I found, instead, was that almost everyone expressed their opinions freely and had strong opinions about politics, government, and the future. What people didn’t seem inclined to talk about were the differences between their fellow Ukrainians. Before the bombs started destroying apartment buildings, people were focused on joining the European Union. They had led three revolutions that brought them closer to modern democracy. They were “Western”. Ukrainians seem to be imitating “us”, but they seem to be better than “us” at this. They had a common goal: to create real, tangible and beautiful results. I wanted to tell everyone at home that we were doing everything wrong. We needed to end the infighting, come together and push our country to be better.

Vladimir Putin knew that a successful democracy on his border could shatter the empire he clung to. The Ukrainians remained stoic, but began to prepare. A local lawyer I had interviewed over glasses of horseradish vodka invited me to some outdoor kiosks to purchase helmets for himself and his wife. The wide smile on his face hid the fear in his eyes.

I think of this man when I hear people in the United States question our support for Ukraine. After Putin’s Unjust Invasion, It Looked Like This Issue Could Unite Americans – Sean Penn Did It The Sean Hannity Show on Fox and it was a celebration of love. But this moment did not last. American solidarity brought warm and fuzzy feelings, but no audience. Tucker Carlson quickly realized this and launched a direct media attack against Ukraine. He began remixing Putin’s old chestnuts about Ukraine being “corrupt” and “full of Nazis”, while Russia was bombing maternity hospitals and carrying out gangster-style shootings against families in Bucha.

Why did our country, its journalists and its politicians not stand together? Well, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), agreeing with Nancy Pelosi, wouldn’t keep the small donations flowing. Time named President Zelensky “person of the year,” Greene alleged that Zelensky wanted to kill American children and that President Joe Biden should be impeached for supporting Ukraine. Conservative commentator Candace Owens proclaimed she wanted to punch Zelensky “in the face.” Recently, she launched “F*&% Ukraine” on the Paul Bet-David podcast.

Fast forward to now. In the first Republican presidential debate, all but two candidates proudly declared that they would abandon Ukraine. This year’s crucial question: “Would you accept Trump as a candidate?” » (although that one hasn’t disappeared either) is: “Do you support Ukraine?”

When Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said Ukraine was not a “vital” national interest, I understand he didn’t see what I saw. But right now in America, all it takes is for the other side to support an issue for you to oppose it. Every time someone in the media asks, “Haven’t we done enough?” I think of my helmet-wearing friend texting me from his basement as Russian tanks pass by, telling me that his wife asked him – if the soldiers came through the door – to kill her before the soldiers reach him.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses world leaders during the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, September 19, 2023, in New York.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Ukraine is not just a national interest for the United States, it is the United States — or at least a nascent version that is doing its best to grow. We simply cannot ignore this. If we do, we will lose all sense of who we were, who we are, and who we will become.

We saw what Ukraine was capable of when it prevented the capture of kyiv using old-fashioned equipment and crude weapons donated by its NATO friends. When the Ukrainians saw my Yankees hat, they shouted “Javelins!” » or “HIMARS!” – weapons which had just been delivered when we were there in June. But as Ukraine has needed more support and advanced weapons in the face of Russian escalation, the appetite for aid has diminished – largely because it is politically expedient for those who present themselves as Republicans or professionally lucrative for those in the right-wing YouTube sphere to draw this. line in the sand.

Our support for this war may well be the final test of our metal. If we fail with Ukraine, we will fail ourselves.

Aaron Kaufman is producer and co-director of the documentary Superpower and non-governmental advisor to President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.


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