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Frontline Ukrainian commander pleads with Senator Charles Schumer for aid


DONETSK REGION, Ukraine — As U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) led a congressional delegation to western Ukraine on Friday, a 31-year-old Ukrainian drone commander sat perched in a muddy foxhole in the country’s east, scanning his laptop screen for Russian targets.

Schumer and four other U.S. senators were in the western city of Lviv to meet with military leaders and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The meeting was a show of U.S. support as Republicans in Congress continue to block an aid package that would give Ukraine desperately needed military assistance as Russia’s invasion enters a third year.

On Feb. 13, the Senate approved a $95 billion package that would commit $60 billion to Ukraine, but House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) preemptively rejected the legislation and has refused to bring it up in the House.

Schumer’s visit to Ukraine was intended to ramp up pressure on the Republican-led House to drop their resistance to the aid. Ukraine’s leaders insist they are already running out of ammunition, and further delays could help Russian troops seize more territory and potentially even lead to Ukraine’s defeat.

Denys, a reconnaissance drone operator who also goes by the call sign Hipster, said he is already feeling the pinch. He spoke on condition his last name not be used, in keeping with military rules.

Denys and his unit are responsible for identifying high-value targets, such as Russian equipment, artillery and armored vehicles. Ukrainian artillery units then rely on that intelligence to launch precise strikes on those positions using U.S.-supplied ammunition, including 155-mm shells.

But in recent months, as U.S. aid faltered, the troops have been forced to ration those shells. Even if Denys and his team found scores of important targets, he said, the artillery unit would likely have to choose just one.

Ukraine suffered losses during chaotic withdrawal as Russia seized Avdiivka

After spending the day at Denys’s drone position on Friday, Washington Post reporters had wrapped up interviews with him and other soldiers in a nearby town when Schumer’s press secretary called for a previously planned phone interview with the senator. Told about the drone commander’s shell shortage and offered the chance to speak with Denys directly, Schumer agreed.

Standing in a small cafe after dusk, Denys held the phone in his hand as the majority leader thanked him for his service.

“Let me say to you, we are so appreciative of the courage of you and so many of the other millions of Ukrainians who are fighting this battle for freedom,” Schumer told him. “We are behind you all the way.” Schumer added that in Lviv, Zelensky and military leaders told the visiting delegation about the shortage of 155-mm shells.

Denys thanked him for U.S. support, saying that “currently as you mentioned, we are really experiencing a shortage of shells.”

“This puts us in a position where we have to carefully choose our targets,” he said. “And the price we pay for that is the life of our infantry, who are in the first line in trenches with shells and guns actually trying to stop Russians.”

Schumer replied by telling Denys the United States is “so grateful” to him, and said Ukrainian leaders had described troops’ advanced use of drones “but to not have something that’s a little more rudimentary, 155mm shells, to use them effectively, shows you how desperately we have to get this aid package passed.”

“I can’t tell you how painful it is for us to see the enemy constantly, every day, and not be able to do anything with that,” he said.

Schumer replied: “Right, well that’s why we desperately need this.” The senator also mentioned that a Ukrainian leader told him that adequate ammunition could have prevented Russia’s recent capture of Avdiivka, an eastern town that Russians seized last weekend after a Ukrainian retreat.

“That’s true,” Denys replied. “We have enough of committed people who are ready to put their lives in danger, but we can’t just waste our lives — we also need some means of support.”

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Schumer told Denys that he had visited a new cemetery in Lviv that morning where the war dead are buried. He mentioned that he also noticed graves being dug for those who may be killed in coming weeks.

“So we’re going to keep working until we get this aid done, Denys,” he said, adding: “Thank you for your bravery and your service, not just to Ukraine but to America and our values as well.”

Denys replied: “Thank you sir. We hope that we will somehow be able to repay you for your help. At least with our experience.”

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