Congress Wants Charity for Ukraine Directed in an Effective Supply Line

December 7, 2022 by Tom Ramstack
Congress Wants Charity for Ukraine Directed in an Effective Supply Line
Ukrainian soldiers run to help people in an apartment building on fire after Russian shelling in Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022. (AP Photo/LIBKOS)

WASHINGTON — Donations of humanitarian aid and military equipment keep pouring into Ukraine from throughout the world but now the challenge is to make sure it’s being distributed effectively, according to lawmakers at a congressional hearing Wednesday.

Private donors have raised more than $1 billion to help Ukraine in its war against Russia, said Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C. They included a U.S. construction labor union.

The Biden administration plans to contribute another $38 billion in military aid soon.

The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, wants to take further steps to ensure “the equipment is getting to the right people at the right time,” Wilson said. The commission is an independent U.S. government agency run by Congress.

A recent report from the commission showed that some Ukrainian “frontline units with advanced Western weaponry still lack battlefield essentials such as combat optics, secure communications, and vehicles needed to transport casualties from the red zone to hospitals in the rear.”

In one recent case, the Poland-based Help Ukraine Center, which distributes aid to residents of its war-ravaged neighbor, told donors to stop contributing clothes as it became overwhelmed with them. The center is shifting toward medical products, food and hygiene.

Witnesses at the congressional hearing represented some of the aid organizations. They said their private efforts are helping to free the Ukrainian army to put more effort into its military defense against the Russians.

Dora Chomiak, president of U.S.-based nongovernmental organization Razom for Ukraine, said there are “hiccups” in the system for getting supplies where they need to be. “Razom” means togetherness.

Her biggest concern was U.S. export controls that severely limit some of the smaller items needed by the Ukrainian military. They include bullet-proof vests, helmets, night vision goggles and encrypted communications equipment.

If the U.S. government grants “a general license” to export the equipment to Ukraine, “then I think we could save a lot of lives,” Chomiak said.

Jonas Öhman, founder of the Lithuania-based nongovernmental organization Blue/Yellow for Ukraine, said, “Speed and agility are of utmost importance.”

His organization has raised about $14 million from Lithuanians in aid to Ukraine.

Serhiy Prytula, chairman of the Ukraine-based Prytula Charity Foundation, warned that military failure for Ukraine would have implications worldwide.  

“It should be clear to everyone Russia will not stop in Ukraine,” Prytula said. Next would be North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies Poland and Lithuania.

A Helsinki Commission report says that a unique characteristic of Ukraine’s decentralized military defense has been a rise of civil society organizations raising grassroots support for the Ukrainian war effort and humanitarian response.

It describes the civilian organizations as “quartermaster[s] for Ukraine’s troops, supplying tactical gear such as commercial drones, night and thermal vision optics, encrypted radios and body armor.”

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense focuses on securing advanced weapons systems, such as tanks, anti-missile systems and satellite communications, from Western suppliers.

The Helsinki Commission report says Congress is examining government options “to declutter and harmonize an export framework that was never intended for a massive land war in Europe.”

Lawmakers made no firm commitments Wednesday to improving supply lines for Ukraine.

Instead, they reaffirmed strong opposition to the Russians.

“No issue has been more important to us than standing up to the atrocities that have been committed by Mr. Putin and the Russians,” said Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md.

“Ukraine must win this war,” said Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss. “If they do not, malign actors around this world will be emboldened.”

Tom can be reached at [email protected] and @TomRamstack

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