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Opinion: As an American in Avdiivka, what is Congress doing?

February 20, 2024 2:36 PM 10 min read
John Roberts
John Roberts
American volunteer with Ukraine's Armed Forces
Ukrainian police evacuate people from embattled Avdiivka, Ukraine, on Oct. 30, 2023. (Vlada Liberova/Libkos via Getty Images)
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I am an American military veteran, callsign "Jackie," and I am writing from Donbas in Ukraine. I am originally from Orange County, California. I served in the U.S. military for eight years, stationed in Colorado, South Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait. I also worked as a contractor at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center in North Carolina, helping prepare our future special operators.

As an American soldier, I have always been interested in our national security and global interests. I am currently an assault instructor serving in the 3rd Assault Brigade, an elite unit of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

A few days ago, we came to the rescue of Ukrainian forces who had been enduring the Russian attack on the town of Avdiivka. Our fighters quickly destroyed two Russian brigades and kept a corridor open for Ukrainians in Avdiivka to retreat from the town. Our soldiers are true professionals, undisturbed by the massive Russian firepower being flung at them and fighting hard to gain and maintain the corridor.

One thing I teach my students is to conduct “shaping-operations”– essentially, to take steps by using alternative means such as artillery, airpower (drones in our case), or electronic warfare to prepare the battlefield for the success of our infantry to capture their final positions. My students are very excited to employ these techniques, they train on them and use them in battle frequently.

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The capture of Avdiivka is Russia’s first major achievement in nine months, but it doesn’t leave any side looking good. For Russia, it was a Pyrrhic victory that consumed an army’s worth of equipment and killed or mangled estimated tens of thousands of Russian men to capture

Ukrainian soldiers are highly motivated to fight efficiently and reduce casualties as they are making their transition from Soviet to NATO doctrinal warfare. Our brigade is leading this transition and using shaping-operations at every level possible – even down to the squad. We make plans, we do reconnaissance, we task support assets and we review our actions after battle to learn what we did well and what we need to change. We admit our successes and failures and we improve and grow ourselves as professionals. Because of this, in battle, we are confident and unrelenting.

On the ground in Avdiivka, we felt the results of current U.S. politics with full force. We are accustomed to fighting with less artillery than Russia. We have already developed clever ways of using precision fire to counter Russian artillery. Our artillery soldiers use their U.S.-provided weapons efficiently and effectively to batter the second largest military in the world, so that our assaulters have cover while they pierce like needles to rapidly cut Russian forces' critical arteries.

We are used to fighting understrength. We are intelligently adapted and trained to push ourselves to the highest level of combat performance, but we cannot deliver miracles. We have already delivered many miracles in this war, and I am sure we will continue to do so, but hoping for miracles is not a reliable way to win a war.

I need to go pray and say goodbye to more of my students and friends. These soldiers, these men and women, are incredible people. It takes weeks to teach American soldiers what Ukrainians are able to learn in hours. Their standards and self-expectations are high. They usually accomplish complex team-based tasks correctly on their first attempt.

Every time they fail in training, they get angry with themselves and repeat the task until it is right. I have never had to ask them to stay later or work harder. They hardly sleep, they don’t complain, and most of them have families. Besides not getting to spend time with their families, these soldiers know that this fight is for their future and their safety.

Ukrainian soldiers sit on an armored vehicle in the outskirts of Avdiivka, Ukraine, on Feb. 14, 2024(Vlada Liberova/Libkos/Getty Images)

I am extremely disappointed in a super minority decision in Congress to block funding for Ukraine. They have said that we need this or that – border security or healthcare or whatever you want to say – but it is clear to me that this is solely about Ukraine. We didn’t have proper border security or healthcare in 2010 either – or 2000, or 1990, or 1980, or 1970 0r 1960, or 1950. Our decision and ability as Americans to have funding for something we supposedly want has nothing to do with enabling Ukraine’s current defense.

The problems in the U.S. that this super minority in Congress is citing to block funding have endured since the founding of our nation in the 1700s. They have nothing to do with Ukraine in 2024. I am sure that France in 1776 could have come up with many excuses not to support American colonists fighting for independence from British subjugation. Foreign support and arms enabled Congress to stand today. Now, we are tasked to keep the light of freedom lit for others.

The current speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, wants to pour water on that fire. We are fighting hard against impossible odds. All you need to do is help from a distance, and that is a good thing for Americans.

You do not want to come here. The Ukrainians are dying and it is not out of ignorance or accident. They are dedicated to their liberation from Soviet values and Russian oppression. They are spilling oceans of blood to join the free democracies of the world.

Ukrainians, who enjoy an average income of something like $5,000 a year, are the largest public donors to the war. Ukrainian soldiers purchase most of their professional equipment with their own income. This economy was already struggling before the invasion and there are still not enough resources to fight and equip everyone.

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Ukrainians are doing everything and giving everything they have for this, and they will not stop. They are fighting for their future, and they will not give up on their future. They will not surrender to Russian capture and enslavement. They received a soft independence in 1991, which they turned into complete self-governance and independence in 2014 and now Russia has come to crush them.

Thanks to U.S. aid, the Ukrainians have not been crushed. Thanks to U.S. aid, they have taught the second largest military power in the world, that might doesn't make right. Where is the Russian cruiser Moskva? Thanks to U.S. aid, a new free nation is being born in the world. Ukraine is not giving up.

Americans, we cannot give up either. I can say from living in California, Colorado, and North Carolina that I love the U.S. I love the peace and prosperity that I enjoy in the U.S. I have been to enough places around the world to know that we are blessed with the lives we live and the hardships we sometimes endure. I trust our American mindset, based on freedom and free will.

In every American mind exists the mental foundations of blind justice, mutual consent, self-determination, individual rights, a resistance to mob rule, a resistance to rule by elites, a resistance to rule by violent force, a desire to stand up for the weak or oppressed, a desire to create, build, explore, learn, and improve, and a desire to shape the conditions of a paradise for all.

The U.S.' goals are ambitious, but not selfish. We know that by standing up for others, we expose ourselves to harm. We know that by accepting the freedom to succeed in our lives, we also accept the freedom to fail.

We know that we want low-cost healthcare, but we also know that we don’t want to empower a government dictatorship over the medical industry. We know we want to show compassion to people who are suffering, but we also know that we don’t want open borders for all to take advantage of our kindness.

Our balanced approach to life and law does not go unnoticed by the rest of the world. In fact, every moment of every day there are billions of people studying U.S. history and politics – poor people, desperate people, people who are captured under the rule of a dictator who views their subjects as sheep to be sheered or slaughtered, sacrificed for power.

Russians live in such a culture. The Russians who are fighting in Ukraine are not like Americans. They could be, but they are not. We have killed thousands and thousands of them… and they keep coming. It is a great tragedy that these Russian men are dead. They could be raising their families, building infrastructure, creating new inventions, or dreaming of a better world.

But they are not.

Their society, their culture, their leaders, and their dreams speak of death; to kill their enemies, to die in glory, to destroy. Their society currently does not dream of progress, prosperity, or fairness. Their desire is for suffering, poverty, and ignorance. With these conditions, the leaders of Russia can shape their people’s minds toward anything they want. Like a hostage falling in love with their captors, Russian people are so desperate and miserable that they will do anything to satisfy the masters they depend on.

And the fact that, directly on the Russian border, there is a nation called Ukraine that is leading a democratic change to freedom and independence is why Russia has invaded it. Russian leaders cannot have free Ukrainians running around and living whatever lives they want. If Russian people are able to travel across their own border, make friends with Ukrainians, and see what Ukraine has built, it would dispel the entire power structure of Russian elites.

Russian leaders know that this is their last chance to capture their people’s minds. Russia’s goal is to maintain the illusion of desperation to their population, that the Ukrainians are set to shatter completely.

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Ukraine is not trying to challenge Russia – it has done so incidentally. Ukrainians want prosperity, independence, freedom, and the rule of law just like the rest of the U.S.' allies.

Ukrainians built a path for themselves to get there and they were doing it right. In 2014, they demanded fair democratic rule and they actually got it. Ukrainians have built successful businesses, their agricultural industry is one of the most productive in the world, they educate their people, and their contribution to the workforce of the global information technology industry was significant.

Russia took steps to slow them down in 2014, invading Crimea and Donbas, but Ukrainians persisted in their vision of progress. And then came 2022: The ladder the Ukrainians were climbing was broken by Russian artillery.

But the most extraordinary thing is that Ukrainians don't care.

They continue to climb this broken ladder and nothing will stop them. What should we think about these people, whose will for progress has already endured so much resistance? Do we really think the Ukrainians will give up? Do we think they should give up? If Ukrainians win, it will result in the freedom and prosperity of a new and enduring democracy. Incidentally, it will result in a collapse of the Russian societal mindset of master and slave.

The Russian nation will endure, but divorced from its current dream of theft and destruction. The Russian people will have an opportunity to flourish, to take advantage of global trade and ideas, to spark a desire for the freedoms that they see in Ukraine. If Russia wins, it will result in the survival of an impoverished dictatorship.

A view of smoke billowing from the Avdiivka Coke and Chemical Plant in Avdiivka, Ukraine, on Feb. 15, 2024. (Kostiantyn Liberov/Libkos/Getty Images)

Incidentally, Russia's victory will lead to the capture of Ukraine and more evidence that the U.S. does not care about its ideals beyond its own borders. It will be yet another sign that the U.S. cannot be counted on as a friend and that the U.S. – with all of its economic prosperity, values, warships, and weapons – cannot be trusted with the power and influence we currently wield in the world.

The damage and destruction Russia is causing is something ISIS couldn’t imagine in even its wildest dreams.

The U.S. and Ukraine’s goals and futures have suddenly collided toward the same ends, and we need only to give Ukrainians the tools they are asking for. Give Ukrainians the weapons they need, and they will succeed.

There is so much more that could be said about how Ukrainians avoid targeting Russian civilians with long-range strikes. How Russians deliberately target Ukrainian civilians and civil infrastructure. How often Russian soldiers wear Ukrainian uniforms and attempt to infiltrate or use other underhanded tactics despite having military and economic advantages.

I am still an American soldier. I am still a warrior and a member of a team. I can tell you that here in Avdiivka, we felt the result of Congress’ actions to defund Ukraine. Our Ukrainian partners are not complaining. They are humble and doing everything they can to survive. I am here and I can see what is happening. I am complaining.

What happened in Congress this winter was wrong. Many Ukrainian soldiers wear the American flag into battle out of respect and admiration. Ukrainians who look up to the U.S. and our values. Many of whom are now dead.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in the op-ed section are those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the views of the Kyiv Independent.

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