Congress is poised to approve nearly $40 billion in additional military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine, outstripping President Biden’s $33 billion request and extending a fresh lifeline to Kyiv as Moscow plows ahead with plans to annex vast swaths of the country’s south and east.
The bill includes almost $15 billion earmarked for military equipment, training, intelligence support and Ukrainian defense force salaries. A further $14 billion would be allocated for nonmilitary support, including humanitarian aid, and another $5 billion would address global food security issues.
In remarks on the House floor Tuesday night, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) repeatedly denounced Russian President Vladimir Putin as a “coward,” described the aid package as “an act of mercy” and cast the war in Ukraine as one on which the future of global democracy hinges.
“We should all be very proud that we had the opportunity when Putin decided — whatever it is he decided — to be brutal and cruel and a coward, that we were there to help,” Pelosi said. “It’s about democracy versus a dictatorship. Democracy must prevail. The Ukrainian people are fighting the fight for their democracy and, in doing so, for ours as well.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin urged lawmakers to pass the measure in an open letter ahead of the debate.
“The ability to draw upon existing [Defense Department] stocks has been a critical tool in our efforts to support the Ukrainians in their fight against Russian aggression,” the letter reads. “In short, we need your help.”
Aid for Ukraine has so far drawn bipartisan support, including a House vote of 417 to 10 to pass a lend-lease bill expediting weapons shipments to Ukraine — a measure that Biden signed into law on Monday.
It comes as the United States joined the European Union and Britain in blaming Russia for a brazen cyberattack in late February that crippled the U.S.-based satellite Internet company Viasat, disrupting service for tens of thousands of satellite modems in Ukraine and other European countries at the outset of the war. The United States did not initially assign blame for the attack, which shuttered communications across Ukraine just an hour before the invasion began.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Tuesday that the country’s aims were “evolving” as the war dragged on, and indicated that outside support could help the country not only repel the invasion but also reclaim territories such as Crimea that have been controlled by Russian forces since long before the war.
“In the first months of the war, the victory for us looked like withdrawal of Russian forces to the positions they occupied before Feb. 24,” Kuleba said. “Now if we are strong enough on the military front and we win the battle for Donbas, which will be crucial for the following dynamics of the war, of course the victory for us in this war will be the liberation of the rest of our territories.”
A top U.S. intelligence official said that between eight and 10 Russian generals have been killed while fighting in Ukraine — an unusually high number for a conflict that is still less than three months old.
The toll is due in part to the unusual role Russian military leaders are playing on the battlefield, Lt. Gen. Scott D. Berrier, director the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the Senate Armed Services Committee. Instead of commanding forces from afar, Berrier said, Moscow’s generals have had to travel to the front to ensure their orders are carried out.
But Ukraine faces a daunting uphill battle over cities that have been shattered and are still being pummeled by Russia’s offensive.
Russia began a fresh assault on cities in Ukraine’s south and east this week, including fatal attacks on the key southern port city of Odessa using hypersonic missiles fired from Crimea, according to Ukrainian officials. Images showed firefighters scouring rubble for survivors on Tuesday in the wake of the attacks, which struck a warehouse, shopping mall and tourism infrastructure, according to the Ukrainian regional military administration.
Capturing Odessa, a port city on the Black sea, would be a big strategic win for Moscow, though the Pentagon has assessed that Russian forces don’t currently have the ability to launch ground or maritime offensives in the region.
Around 300 miles east of Odessa, more than 100 civilians and 1,000 fighters are still holed up in Mariupol’s besieged Azovstal steel plant, which is being bombarded by constant Russian shelling, according to a local official.
“Heavy artillery and aircraft continued to strike the plant all day. Attempts to storm the ground continue to fail,” Petro Andryushchenko, an aide to the Mariupol mayor, wrote Tuesday on Telegram. Ukrainian officials said on Saturday that a U.N.-backed evacuation effort had shepherded more than 300 women, children and elderly people from the plant, but fighters say civilians could still be hiding in the complex’s vast underground labyrinth.
A senior U.S. defense official said on Tuesday that the equivalent might of two Russian battalion tactical groups remains in the ravaged port city, but that most forces have been redeployed elsewhere.
North of Mariupol, in Izyum, Ukrainian officials said that 44 bodies have been pulled from the rubble of a five-story building that was destroyed in a Russian shelling attack in the first week of March. Oleh Synyehubov, governor of the Kharkiv region, where Izyum is located, said efforts to search other buildings leveled by the attack have been hindered by constant shelling.
The head of the U.N. Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, Matilda Bogner, said on Tuesday that the true number of civilians slain in the conflict is likely thousands higher than the currently confirmed toll of 3,381. Fighting in the country’s large southern urban centers has obscured investigations into the true toll of the war.
“The big black hole is really Mariupol, where it has been difficult for us to fully access and to get fully corroborated information,” Bogner said. Ukrainian officials from Mariupol have estimated that as many as 20,000 civilians have died in Russia’s bombardment of the city.
Bogner also said the U.N. mission has “received credible information of torture, ill-treatment and incommunicado detention” of Russian prisoners of war by Ukrainian forces. The information includes videos online that appear to show inhumane treatment and humiliation, including coerced statements and apologies.
“While the scale is significantly higher on the side of allegations against Russian forces, we are also documenting violations by Ukrainian forces,” she said.
A separate report by the U.N. International Organization for Migration on Monday said that more than 8 million Ukrainians have been internally displaced by the fighting, a 24 percent increase since mid-March. The report said there is an “overwhelming need” for financial help and shelter for those fleeing their homes to other parts of Ukraine, and that the hostilities had cut off access to some of those in dire need.
Millions of other Ukrainians have fled the country in what’s become the largest migration of humans in Europe since World War II, the vast majority of them women and children. Anti-trafficking organizations say their risk of falling prey to human traffickers will increase as the war drags on.
“Those who have fled alone, with no relatives or contacts in neighboring countries, face a significantly increased risk as they need to rely on people they do not know,” said Suzanne Hoff, coordinator at La Strada International, an Amsterdam-based consortium of anti-trafficking organizations that released a report on Tuesday about the dangers refugees face from trafficking groups including labor and sexual abuse.
Ellen Francis and Annabelle Timsit in London; and John Hudson, Adam Taylor and Reis Thebault in Washington contributed to this report.