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How the fight in Congress over U.S. aid to Ukraine impacts Ukrainian soldiers

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

It's 2024, and soon Ukraine enters a third year of all-out war with Russia. This as Republicans in the U.S. block more aid to fund that war. Among the soldiers in the fight is Roman Kostenko. He's a special forces colonel who's known for using drones to attack Russian forces. Kostenko was also elected to Ukraine's parliament in 2019. We spoke recently via an interpreter after he returned from the front lines near Kherson. I started by asking him what effect the political fight over aid here in Washington is having on troops in Ukraine.

ROMAN KOSTENKO: (Through interpreter) As a politician, when I talk with soldiers in the trenches, I am asked, when will our partners decide to help? Everyone is anxious that the aid will stop coming in. At the moment we have enough resources, but everyone is thinking about 2024, if we're going to have enough resources to resist the Russian Federation. Everyone is putting a lot of hope on the United States, not that we haven't been sufficiently ready. It is our understanding that none of the European countries would be able to successfully fight Russia on their own.

FADEL: How ready and capable is Ukraine of making its own weapons and ammunition quickly enough, if it needs to stand on its own?

KOSTENKO: (Through interpreter) In the last couple of years, we have managed to organize local production of drones and their ammunition. They're not being supplied by our partners. We produce them on our own. These drones are hitting a substantial amount of enemy equipment. That's very important. Regarding what is going to happen if we don't get help from the U.S., two years we were saying that it is our war. And our partners call it the war for democracy. I simply don't see a situation where our partners are going to turn their backs on us. It wouldn't just be a betrayal of Ukraine but a betrayal of yourself and your own principles.

Even if the United States will stop helping, Ukraine will keep fighting. But the amount of dead will increase exponentially, both civilians and military personnel, because it's one thing to use artillery and another to use assault rifles against tanks.

FADEL: I want to talk about the future now. In 2024, what is the endgame for Ukraine if it's unable to get back a lot more of that territory? How do you see this ending?

KOSTENKO: (Through interpreter) When we're talking about 2024, we must concentrate on the elimination of the enemy military personnel and step away from the mindset of liberating territories at any cost. The victory must be comprehensive. We must be fighting the enemy on the battlefield. Our partners must become more serious about the sanctions against the Russian Federation because Russia is still able to make rockets and shoot at us. The sanctions are not serious enough, and everyone sees that. That's why, to be able to successfully fight off the enemy on the battlefield, we need good sanctions. We need anti-aircraft missiles to protect ourselves and we need international support. Only with a comprehensive approach would we be able to achieve the liberation of the territories and restore the borders to what they were in 1991.

FADEL: There have been reports of U.S. officials discussing with Ukrainian leaders what a negotiated peace settlement might look like. And I wanted to get, from your perspective, as somebody who's been fighting and dealing with the violence of this war, if you are even open to the idea of a peace settlement with Russia.

KOSTENKO: (Through interpreter) Overall, when I talk to my soldiers, I have not heard the word truce. It's like a taboo word, because everyone understands that a peace treaty with the Russian Federation would just give them more time to recuperate and once again start a bigger war. In my opinion, those who speak about the truce, even among our partners, are mistaken. They must not understand what kind of country the Russian Federation is. Truce would give Russia a chance to continue their predatory policy. That is my personal opinion based on the fact that we have been continuously fighting Russia since 2014. What is most important is that any kind of peace on Russia's terms, like relinquishing Ukrainian territories, would be a display of the weakness of democracy and the West.

FADEL: Colonel Roman Kostenko, thank you so much for your time. We really appreciate you joining us.

KOSTENKO: (Through interpreter) Thank you. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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