Long Islanders protest in front of congressman’s office for greater Ukraine aid

Supporters of Ukraine rallied in front of U.S. Rep. Anthony D‘Esposito‘s office in Garden City March 9, seeking greater aid for the war-torn nation. // Photo by Michael Zavatsky/Long Island Advocate

By Michael Zavatsky and Amber Bianchi

Nearly a month of delay within the House of Representative to pass the Senate’s foreign aid bill, which would see $60 billion go to Ukraine, brought dozens of Long Island residents to the front door of U.S. Rep. Anthony D’Esposito’s Garden City office March 8. After two years of war between Ukraine and Russia, the bill would provide critical aid for the Ukrainian military to continue to defend its country.

 “I’m here to urge our [U.S.] government to do what it needs to do to protect freedom, not only for the Ukrainian people, but for Europe and for us,” said Larry Tremsky, of Garden City, who serves as the guardian of a Ukrainian refugee. 

Protesters made their message clear with handmade signs. // Photo by Michael Zavatsky/Long Island Herald

As House conservatives have talked of attempts to develop their own aid package for Ukraine under Speaker Mike Johnson, residents of New York’s 4th Congressional District are blaming politics for Johnson’s inaction and what they say is D’Esposito’s reluctance to bring forward and sign the original aid bill. “Sixty percent of Americans support this bill… yet Johnson won’t bring it to a vote, even though he knows it would pass right away,” Tremsky said.

D’Esposito’s office responded to the rally in a statement: “Congressman D’Esposito has consistently supported sending aid to Ukraine and is currently working with a bipartisan group of lawmakers to pass the Defending Borders, Defending Democracies Act, which is a comprehensive plan to assist our allies in Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan while also ensuring America’s borders are secured.”

The rationing of ammunition and the inability to resupply Ukrainian defense systems have allowed previously intercepted Russian drones and missiles to strike both civilian and military targets. Andrew Piddoubny, president of the Ukrainian American Bar Association and the rally’s co-organizer, recounted when a Russian drone struck an apartment block and killed seven people in Odesa, a port city on the Black Sea in southern Ukraine. “Russian attacks on civilians are reckless, they are cowardly, and they happen every single day,” Piddoubny said.

The U.S. Senate passed a $95.3 billion foreign aid package for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan in February. The next step is for Johnson to present the bill to the House of Representatives and for the House to pass it. Johnson is yet to bring the bill to the House floor for a vote, however.

During a recent news conference, Johnson declared, “The Republican-led House will not be jammed or forced into passing a foreign aid bill.” He went on to state that such a bill “does nothing” to secure the U.S. Mexico border, according to the Associated Press.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said Ukraine would survive without U.S. aid, but it could lose territory that it has fought hard to gain back from Russia. In February, Zelenskyy posted to social media, “For us in Ukraine, continued U.S. assistance helps to save human lives from Russian terror. It means that life will continue in our cities and will triumph over war.”

Piddoubny shared that on March 6, a Russian missile landed near a meeting between Zelenskyy and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. “Russia came within just 500 meters of possibly triggering Article 5 of the NATO charter,” Piddoubny said, explaining how the lack of defenses could cause the war to turn into a global conflict. If Article 5 were triggered, the U.S. would be required to send more than aid, as American troops would be called up to defend America’s NATO allies.

 The Very Rev. Yaroslav Dumanskyy of St. Michael’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church and Cultural Center in Uniondale led members of his church and community in prayer. Supporters of Ukraine held the Eastern European nation’s flag as a symbol of solidarity. // Photo by Michael Zavatsky/Long Island Advocate

 Many residents and community leaders across Long Island said they fear their congressional representatives are blindly siding with popular Republican opinion that the U.S. should not be involved in Ukraine. But others believe that the U.S. government has given up on promises made to Ukraine, noting the 1994 Budapest Memorandum

The agreement between the U.S., Ukraine, Russian Federation and United Kingdom removed all nuclear weapons from Ukraine in exchange for recognition of its independence. All parties also agreed to refrain from encroaching on Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty and to meet with one another if these commitments were not abided by.

Claudia Borecky, of Merrick, the widow of a Ukranian American citizen, told protesters at the rally that “Ukraine kept its part of the deal… and I’m asking Congressman D’Esposito to keep the promises that Americans made to Ukraine.” 

 Borecky reminded rally attendees that there is another way around Johnson’s unwillingness to bring the Senate bill to the House floor. “D’Esposito must sign onto the discharge position, which will force the speaker to bring it to a vote,” she said. With the approval of a 218-vote majority in the House, then the foreign aid bill could be voted on by representatives, thus bypassing Republican majority leadership.

“Ukraine kept its part of the deal… and I’m asking Congressman D’Esposito to keep the promises that Americans made to Ukraine.” 

Claudia Borecky, Merrick

Borecky asserted, “President Zelenskyy asked for military aid. He could have asked for boots on the ground, but he didn’t. Isn’t that the least we can do for a country that disarmed itself, trusting that we will live up to our side of the pact?”

The Senate passed the Ukraine aid measure 70-29, with 22 Republicans voting for it, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. President Joe Biden emphasized the importance of aiding Ukraine in his State of the Union speech last week, stating, “Ukraine can stop Putin if we stand with Ukraine and provide the weapons it needs to defend itself.”

 As the war enters its third year, Ukrainian troops are retreating from their positions in the south surrounding Crimea as military equipment and funding wither away. Leaders from 23 European Parliamentary Assemblies have joined millions of Americans in calling for Johnson to release the aid that the White House and Senate are asking for. All eyes now fall on cooperation within the House of Representatives and the global effort needed to thwart Russia’s advances within Ukraine.