Dec 06, 2023

In Visit to Austin, Ukrainian Politicians Advocate for U.S. Aid, Meet Refugees Living Here

Reporting Texas

A delegation of Ukrainian politicians visited Austin last week to urge Texas officials to support increased U.S. aid for Ukraine. 

“We understand that after a year and a half of war there is a fatigue,” said Oleksandra Ustinova, the faction leader of the Holos political party, an opposition party to the current government, and chairwoman of the Parliamentary Temporary Special Commision on Arms Control. “We need to explain what the plan is, where the money is being spent, how the weapons are being used.”

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, the United States has provided more than $70 billion in financial and military aid to Ukraine. With little sign of the conflict slowing, an AP-NORC poll in October found that 52% of Americans say that too much is being spent on Ukraine.  

A bloc of Republican politicians, including most Texas Republicans in Congress, have been outspoken against U.S. aid to Ukraine. They have argued that the money sent to Ukraine would be better spent on U.S. citizens and border security. 

“The American people deserve to know what their money has gone to. How is the counteroffensive going? Are the Ukrainians any closer to victory than they were 6 months ago? What is our strategy, and what is the president’s exit plan?” said a September letter penned by over two dozen Republican senators and Congress members. 

Ustinova and Olha Stefanishyna, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister for European integration, met with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and numerous other state politicians during their Austin stop. Patrick’s office did not respond to inquiries about the meeting from Reporting Texas.

“I see that a lot of the Congress people from Texas are supportive, but they want answers,” said Ustinova. 

Eighteen of the 25 Republicans in the Texas congressional delegation have voted against increased aid to Ukraine, with the conservative group “Republicans for Ukraine” grading all 18 “poor” or “very poor” on their report card. Republicans for Ukraine is a coalition of Republicans who believe the party should continue its support for Ukraine. 

The Biden administration last week touted the fiscal benefits of Ukrainian aid for states. It says Texas has benefited the fourth most of any state, with $1.449 billion having been invested into munitions and equipment manufacturing in the Lone Star State. 

Ustinova and Stefanishyna also met with roughly two-dozen members of the local Ukrainian community, many of which are refugees, in Cedar Park. The event was organized by Liberty Ukraine, an Austin-based nonprofit that has raised over $6.1 million of aid for Ukraine. 

Oleksandra Ustinova, a member of the Ukrainian Parliament, and Olha Stefanishyna, the Deputy Prime Minister for European Integration, address University of Texas at Austin Students in an open forum. (Michael Nolan, Reporting Texas)

“I’m still a Ukrainian citizen,” said Natalya Gavryshko, the co-founder of the Ukrainian school of Austin, “It’s important to see what they have to say.”

Many of the Ukrainians spoke about the difficulty of having to move so far from home forcibly.

“It’s really hard. You must pack your entire life into two bags,” said Kateryna Riabokon, who moved to Austin from Kiev in December 2022 with her family as Russian rocket attacks became increasingly dangerous. “We understood it was too dangerous for our kids to stay.” 

Many of the refugees expressed their gratitude to the Austin community, which has welcomed them in.

“The American families we’ve met have been very welcoming,” said Kateryna Sazonova, who lived in Kremenchuk before the war.

“It was scary,” Riabokon said, “but when we got here we found huge support from the people of the United States.” 

Riabokon works for the nonprofit Texas4Ukraine and said that community groups and charities are invaluable for Ukrainian refugees. 

“They need to learn how to pay tax, how to get insurance, a different medical system. It’s  very hard to understand,” said Raibokon.

Groups such as Liberty Ukraine and Texas4Ukraine help to provide advice and support for refugees, from helping with job interviews to finding them furniture. 

“We have to be strong and united,” said Ustinova, “we believe that one day everybody will be able to come home.”