In Ukraine, the vote to renew U.S. aid was cheered. But unease for the future remains

Ukrainian soldiers carry shells to fire

Ukrainian soldiers carry shells to fire at Russian positions on the front line, near the city of Bakhmut, in Ukraine's Donetsk region, on March 25. The outgunned and outnumbered Ukrainian troops have been struggling to halt Russian advances. (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)

KYIV, Ukraine — Lawmaker Oleksandra Ustinova, who leads the Ukrainian parliament’s committee on arms, spent months urging holdouts in the U.S. Congress to stop blocking nearly $61 billion in military and economic aid to her country.

She repeatedly warned them that Russian troops are advancing because Ukrainian soldiers are running low on ammunition and weapons.

Ustinova despaired that no one was listening. Then, on Saturday, the House of Representatives finally approved the aid package. The bill provides nearly $61 billion in assistance, including nearly $14 billion to help Ukraine buy advanced weapons systems and defense equipment and $13.7 billion for purchasing U.S. defense systems for Ukraine.

“I was literally crying,” she says. “You cannot imagine how important it is for us. We had nothing to shoot with. Now there is a green light at the end of the corridor.”

The vote came after Russian airstrikes hit several Ukrainian cities, killing dozens. The aid package is expected to clear the Senate. President Biden has said that the White House will move quickly to send weapons and equipment to Ukraine to “meet urgent battlefield needs.” Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, has said that Russia is firing 10 times more artillery shells than Ukraine can and had warned that Ukraine could lose the war if the House did not approve the aid package.

Ukrainians are cheering the House vote, which will provide fresh supplies of artillery rounds and air defense missiles and also support the Ukrainian economy, which is badly suffering after more than two years of Russia’s full-scale attacks on the country. But Ukraine’s relief that it can fight to live another day is also mixed with uneasiness over future U.S. assistance.

In a video address on Saturday, Zelenskyy thanked House Speaker Mike Johnson and appealed to the U.S. to keep supporting Ukraine in the future.

“America showed its leadership from the first days of the war,” he said. “It is this kind of American leadership that is vital to the preservation of a rules-based international order.”

Zelenskyy and other Ukrainian leaders often warn that Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine threatens Europe and the West, and that Ukrainian soldiers cannot hold back the Russians alone.

Valentyn Romaniuk, a 22-year-old soldier in Ukraine’s Third Assault Brigade, saw this firsthand on the eastern frontline, where his unit was outgunned.

He lost his leg while fighting and is now learning to walk using a prosthesis.

“Delays in aid from our partners don’t just cost lives, they cost limbs,” says Romaniuk, as he rests on a park bench in Kyiv. “With all the dead and injured, that leaves far fewer troops defending Ukraine.”

Ukraine’s military cited delays in military funding as a reason troops had to ration ammunition. While Ukraine waited, its troops were forced to withdraw from Avdiivka, a strategic town in the east that Ukrainian forces had defended from Russian occupation for a decade. Emboldened, the Russian forces stepped up offensives along several points in eastern Ukraine.

Another soldier, Anton Tarasov, says a fresh infusion of military aid “is going to be a great spiritual push, a great emotional push. Because Russians, they were so encouraged all this time. And all their propaganda was saying [to Ukrainians], ‘America has abandoned you, it’s time to give up, otherwise we’re going to kill you all.'”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies that while the aid package will make America richer, it will further ruin Ukraine and lead to even more Ukrainian deaths. Peskov also condemned provisions in the bill that could allow the U.S. to use frozen Russian assets to assist Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian civilians say they have been besieged by Russian attacks as they waited for the House vote.

“So many people are dying,” says Khrystyna Naridzhenyan, 25, as she rings up a customer at her family’s grocery store in Kyiv. “If there’s any opportunity to stop this, we await it.”

Her family’s grocery store was badly damaged by shrapnel from recent Russian missile attacks. Above the store is a yellow banner with the inscription: “We Are Working.”

She says the grocery might have been spared if Ukraine had stronger air defenses.

Ukraine doesn’t have enough air defense systems to intercept all Russian missiles and drones. And those that get through are deadly.

The strikes have also caused enormous damage to infrastructure. The World Bank and the European Commission estimate that it will cost nearly $500 billion to repair and rebuild Ukraine. The bill keeps rising because the attacks keep happening.

Valentyna Maksymenko, 64, also works at the grocery store. She says Ukrainians will keep fighting, even if American support fades away.

“But it will be very difficult for us,” she says. “Many of us will be destroyed.”

At a park in Kyiv, Serhii Bykon, a 44-year-old IT specialist, is watching his young son run around a playground that was rebuilt after a Russian attack.

He says the U.S. aid package should give Ukraine a fighting chance — for now. But he isn’t banking on U.S. assistance in the future, especially if the administration changes.

“There is so much uncertainty,” he says. “That’s why we cannot feel safe.”

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal