A pair of senators traveled to Kyiv this week and met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, reinforcing bipartisan support ahead of midterm elections amid concern that both Republicans and Democrats are fracturing over American support to Ukraine.
Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) released a joint statement saying their arrival in Kyiv underscores “the broad support that continues to exist in Congress for the Ukrainian people.”
“We met with President Zelenskyy to discuss Ukraine’s needs as it continues to defend itself against this brutal Russian invasion and to show American solidarity with the Ukrainian people,” the statement continued.
Zelensky tweeted that Coons and Portman are “true friends of Ukraine” and thanked them for “leadership support.”
“We discussed the situation at the front, the missile terror by the [Russian Federation] and the priority areas of aid for Ukraine, defense and economic. We believe in joint victory!”
Both Coons and Portman are lawmakers responsible for U.S. foreign policy and funding, as members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Coons is the chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations and Portman is the co-chair and co-founder of the Senate Ukraine Caucus.
The majority of Democrats and Republicans in Congress say they support continued U.S. military and economic support to Ukraine, but a minority of lawmakers in both parties have increased criticism of the nearly $18 billion in security assistance and $1.5 billion in humanitarian and economic assistance.
In response to those criticisms, House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy has said that a GOP-controlled House would not write a “blank check” for Ukraine, responding to calls from lawmakers that more oversight is needed on U.S. assistance to the country.
Progressive House Democrats caused a commotion last month when they released and then withdrew a letter calling for President Biden to prioritize negotiations between Russia and Ukraine, which was criticized as out of step with the administration’s stance on support for Kyiv’s strategy of gaining a military advantage over Russia before entertaining diplomacy.
Coons and Portman, in addition to their visit with Zelensky, met with Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dymetro Kuleba, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin, and other Ukrainian officials, the senators said in the statement.
“We saw firsthand the resilience and strength of the Ukrainian people in the face of these atrocities, and they deserve our support. Ukrainian Prosecutor General Kostin is working to hold Russian President Vladimir Putin and his regime accountable, and we discussed efforts in Ukraine, the United States, and at the International Criminal Court to prosecute Russian officials for war crimes. The international community must join Ukraine in this effort.”
The visit comes as Kyiv and other cities around Ukraine are coming under more intensive and deadly attacks by Russian forces, using Iranian suicide drones, on top of rockets and missiles, that are helping to overwhelm Ukraine’s air defense systems, hit critical infrastructure and kill civilians.
The Russians have destroyed about 40 percent of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, including thermal power plants, combined heat and power plants and hydroelectric power plants, leading to rationing of electricity as winter approaches.
Coons and Portman visited the headquarters of the Ukrainian energy company Ukrenergo, which was damaged by Russian strikes, calling it “the largest campaign against civilian energy infrastructure in human history.”
“Russian attacks continue to damage the Ukrainian economy and put the lives of millions of Ukrainian civilians at risk as winter approaches. It is one more piece in the series of atrocities Russia has committed during this illegal war,” they said.
The Russian attacks targeting Ukraine’s infrastructure come as Ukraine’s armed forces have succeeded in pushing back Russian forces from occupied territory in the east and south of the country.
Zelensky has called for the U.S. and other partner countries to step up air defenses and other weapons shipments to help the armed forces keep up momentum and defeat Russia on the battlefield.