Keep a light burning

by Steven Roberts

Here’s a New Year’s resolution: Support Ukraine. Stop Putin. Kyiv needs all the essential weapons of war — tanks and missiles, howitzers and drones. But it also needs less obvious weapons, from diesel-powered generators to long-lasting lightbulbs.

Yes, lightbulbs. Russia clearly cannot win on the battlefield, so it has opened a second front: a relentless attack on the country’s civilian infrastructure, including water, power and heating systems. The real target is Ukraine’s emotional resilience; its determination to survive. In this other war, this war of wills, durable bulbs are a vital asset, conserving scant energy supplies while illuminating the dark cold winter ahead.

Foreign policy issues seldom touch our lives directly, but this one does. Everyone can make a contribution, helping to purchase these other weapons of war — coats and blankets, food and medicine, propane-powered stoves and battery-powered flashlights — anything that keeps bodies warm, lights on and spirits strong.

As one senior NATO intelligence officer told The New York Times, “Putin believes this is a game of chicken between him and the West, and he believes the West will blink first.”

That simply cannot happen. The stakes are too high. The challenge is unavoidable. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was completely correct when he told members of Congress, “This battle cannot be frozen or postponed. It cannot be ignored. … You can speed up our victory.”

So far, Congress has responded well, recently allocating an additional $45 billion in aid to Ukraine, bringing the total to $110 billion since the Russian invasion began in February. Until now, that support has been largely bipartisan, with Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, declaring, “Continuing support for Ukraine is the popular mainstream view that stretches across the ideological spectrum.”

But now that unity seems threatened. Donald Trump, in his increasingly frenzied search for political relevance, is stirring up opposition to continued U.S. aid, and his son, Don Jr., called Zelenskyy “an ungrateful international welfare queen.”

It’s hard to imagine a more wrongheaded approach. Not only is aiding Ukraine a moral imperative, it serves America’s own interests. “Your money is not charity,” Zelenskyy told Congress. “It’s an investment in the global security and democracy.”

“The U.S. commitment to Ukraine is costly,” adds a Washington Post editorial, “but much less costly than it would be to live in a world in which Mr. Putin makes the rules.”

That struggle continues on the public policy level. On the personal level, there are countless ways to make sure Putin doesn’t win. One good example is a joint effort by LuminAID, a company that makes portable lighting equipment, and Ukraine Friends, a nonprofit started to aid civilians impacted by the war.

A fundraising email describes their goal as sending “more than 2,000 solar lights/chargers and dozens of generators to battle-scarred, power-deprived cities,” adding that the equipment “will be stuffed inside 26 ambulances.”

UNICEF writes, “The war in Ukraine created a child protection crisis of epic proportions. The rapid outflux of people … dwarfed all other refugee crises of recent years in terms of scale and speed. In less than three months, 7.7 million people were internally displaced, and more than 6.4 million people — including nearly two-thirds of all children in Ukraine, at a rate of one child every second — had crossed into Poland, Romania, Moldova, Slovakia, Hungary and other neighboring countries.”

UNICEF provides these refugees with sanitation, medical and mental health services plus “three dozen Blue Dot support centers strategically located along transit routes,” safe places for the most vulnerable exiles fleeing danger.

“Assisting unaccompanied and separated children is a top priority,” states UNICEF. “Protecting women and girls from gender-based violence and sexual exploitation is another.” Donations can be made at unicefusa.org/mission/emergencies/child-refugees-and-migrants/war-ukraine.

The International Rescue Committee says all donations from individuals will be matched by other donors through Jan. 2, and it provides some examples of what your dollars will do: $108 per month can provide eight families with temporary shelter; $190 per month can provide medical care for 10 children; $500 per month can equip one mobile clinic. Their link: help.rescue.org/donate-be/ukraine-crisis.

World Central Kitchen (WCK) is an organization that deploys chefs directly to disaster areas to provide hot meals to those in need. “Since February,” reports Forbes, “WCK has provided over 100 million hot meals and meal kits to those in need in Ukraine and neighboring countries.” Donate here: donate.wck.org.

That’s just a small sample. Find the cause and the organization that works for you. Keep a light burning for Ukraine and its people. That’s a good way to start the new year.

Steven Roberts teaches politics and journalism at George Washington University. He can be contacted by email at stevecokie@gmail.com.