A thermal power plant damaged by a Russian rocket attack...

A thermal power plant damaged by a Russian rocket attack in Ukraine, Tuesday, May 21, 2024. Credit: AP/Evgeniy Maloletka

Memorial Day honors Americans who gave their lives fighting for this country, many of them in wars essential to the survival of freedom in this country and in the world. As we remember the sacrifice of those brave men and women, this is also a fitting time to think of a war in which people are giving their lives for freedom right now: Ukraine’s war of defense against Vladimir Putin’s war of aggression. And it’s a fitting time to renew and strengthen our pledge of support for their cause.

Disregard the anti-Ukraine voices on the far right and far left claiming that Ukraine is not a democracy. In fact, Ukraine after the 2014 “Revolution of Dignity,” which ousted a Kremlin-allied regime and brought in pro-Western, European-oriented leadership, has probably been as robust a democracy as any democracy could be under the circumstances — while fighting back against covert and then overt war from the authoritarian bully next door. Yes, it has made errors, but errors do not negate a country’s right to self-defense. Let’s not forget that for most of its existence, the United States has been an imperfect democracy.

Why should we help Ukraine? For one thing, we made a commitment to Ukraine’s security in December 1994 as part of the Budapest Memorandum under which Ukraine agreed to give up its large stockpile of Soviet-era nuclear weapons. But even aside from those obligations, an attack by an authoritarian power on a country that has chosen freedom is an attack on the entire free world — a community of nations in which the United States still holds a leadership position. A weakening of the free world also makes us less free.

Both the U.S. and Europe have provided Ukraine with essential help. But as the war has dragged on past the two-year mark, narratives of “Ukraine fatigue” in the West and of Ukraine’s inevitable defeat in the war have gained currency. Often, those narratives are self-fulfilling prophecies. Right-wing Republicans in the U.S. Congress blocked military aid to Ukraine for months, often citing claims that Ukraine cannot win. The resulting shortage of weapons and munitions almost certainly hurt Ukraine on the front lines, allowing Russian forces to gain some ground — further fueling claims that Ukraine is losing and more aid would just be throwing good money after bad.

Ukraine’s situation today is not nearly as dire as doomsayers claim. The new Russian offensive in the Kharkiv region, which alarmed many, already appears to be stalled after a brief rapid advance through lightly defended territory; independent data confirm that Russian forces are losing both men and machinery at a far higher rate than Ukrainian troops. Ukraine continues to be highly successful at using drones to sink Russian ships and take out Russian oil refineries, weakening Putin’s war machine. But armaments need to be delivered faster and more efficiently — and, as a growing number of politicians and experts agree, the Biden administration must lift the prohibition on Ukraine using U.S.-supplied long-range weapons to strike at Russian military targets on Russian territory.

On this Memorial Day, it’s important to remember that the U.S. is not being asked to sacrifice lives for Ukraine, only to help Ukrainians fight. Recent polls show that a majority of Americans still back giving Ukraine more aid and supporting its war effort until it liberates all of its occupied territories. Now, we need to be a better ally to a country making tragic sacrifices for its freedom — as those we honor this weekend did for ours.

Opinions expressed by Cathy Young, a writer for The Bulwark, are her own.

Opinions expressed by Cathy Young, a writer for The Bulwark, are her own.


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