WASHINGTON — The U.S. and other allied countries aren’t doing enough to stop Russian attacks on Ukraine, a group of prominent Ukrainian activists said Friday, hours after a massacre at a packed train station.
The activists were gathered in Washington to meet with U.S. lawmakers and the Biden administration when they received news that a Russian rocket strike had hit the station in Kramatorsk in eastern Ukraine. Officials say at least 50 civilians were killed, including five children.
“All we need now is to arm our army and our territorial defense units to prevent more graves in the backyards of innocent people, to prevent more collective rapes, to prevent more missiles hitting railway stations,” said Daria Kaleniuk, the executive director of the Anti-Corruption Action Center nonprofit. “There is no alternative but just to fight.”
Hanna Hopko, a former member of Ukraine’s Parliament who now runs the International Center for Ukrainian Victory advocacy group, said the attack on civilians Friday “showed that the war against Ukraine is not a war only by [Russian President Vladimir Putin]... it demonstrates that this is according to the United Nations classification a genocide.”
Ahead of a White House meeting Friday morning and after scores of meetings on Capitol Hill, the Ukrainian delegation met with reporters at the German Marshall Fund think tank to convey a strong message: They appreciate international support but believe it is still insufficient.
Washington was too slow to realize that Ukraine could resist the Russian invasion launched in February, assuming that Moscow’s much larger army would triumph in a matter of days, Kaleniuk said. Instead, Ukraine’s military and everyday civilians have kept Russian troops from capturing the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv and targets like the strategic port of Mariupol, preventing the Russians from consolidating their control in the areas they have captured.
But Russia’s determination to hurt Ukrainians is increasingly clear and alarming, according to Maria Berlinska, another member of the group who co-founded an organization for female veterans of Ukraine’s military.
Berlinska pointed to a recent shift in Russia’s narrative about the invasion in its state media: a growing emphasis on mass punishment for Ukraine that observers of Russian politics have also highlighted in recent days.
“Before that, Putin emphasized, ‘Our main enemy is America … we would like to have a common state with Ukrainians,’” Berlinska said. “As of now, it is, ’We would like to kill them all, it doesn’t matter: kids or elderly, doctors or teachers, color of skin, traditional family or LGBT.”
As Russia has withdrawn from some Ukrainian towns, journalists, rights groups and officials have discovered evidence that Russian forces are committing atrocities against civilians, including executions and rape.
Kaleniuk said U.S. assistance to Ukraine should include added anti-missile capabilities and that Americans should realize that millions in already-approved aid are going to support countries other than Ukraine, such as Poland, and to resupply U.S. weapons stocks to replace those sent to the Ukrainians.
The Ukrainian delegation wants President Joe Biden to send jets, drones that can hit medium-to-long-range targets, and more armored vehicles and ammunition. The Ukrainians also said Ukrainian forces need quick training in using the latest American weaponry rather than having to rely on Soviet-era materials. And they blasted what they described as bureaucratic delays in shipments that are inappropriate in an emergency situation.
The Senate unanimously approved a bill this week allowing the Pentagon to lend or lease U.S. military equipment to Ukraine and neighboring nations. The legislation would waive requirements usually needed for that process to speed up the assistance. But the House of Representatives has not yet taken up the proposal and is now on a two-week recess.
On Friday, the Biden administration and NATO ally Slovakia revealed a plan to send an air defense system to Ukraine, with Slovakia receiving a U.S. system to replace the Soviet version it’s giving Kyiv.
“Now is no time for complacency,” Biden said in a statement about the move. “As the Russian military repositions for the next phase of this war, I have directed my administration to continue to spare no effort to identify and provide to the Ukrainian military the advanced weapons capabilities it needs to defend its country.”
The United Kingdom is also preparing a new package of missile systems and vehicles for Ukraine, British ministers said this week.
With Russia now focused on capturing much of eastern Ukraine, it could become increasingly difficult to resupply the Ukrainian forces fighting there from western Ukraine, where foreign military assistance is entering the country, Kaleniuk said.
“It’s still possible” right now, Berlinska said. “And as soon as we are given serious weapons, we will win this war.”