Mission accomplished: Ukrainian delegation to the United States

After our victory, our veterans will return home. It is our civic duty to provide them with decent conditions for rehabilitation and reintegration into civilian life. It is time to launch programs that take care of our veterans, both men and women.

To this end, our veteran, a member of the Women’s Veteran Movement Board, coordinator of the social department of the Movement, Yulia Kirillova, together with a delegation from the Ukrainian Veterans Fund, visited Washington.

Read more about the gratitude of ordinary passersby, what it is like to be abroad during a war, and how much work we still have ahead of us in an interview with our ambassador, Yulia Kirillova.

What was the purpose of the trip?

We went to Washington to establish cooperation with foreign partners, to learn from their experience, find the best global practices and experts providing services for veterans. We were also looking for funding for veteran projects. Although the Ministry of Veterans Affairs and the Ukrainian Veterans Fund have a planned budget for social benefits and guarantees for veterans and their families, the country is at war. At any moment, there may be a budget sequester, and these funds may be redirected to the country’s defense. For us, it is extremely important to get partner support, understand how best to support veterans, and find funding for these projects.

There were many meetings. In the budget committee, we met with senators, congressmen, and so on. They are very open people, and many of them are veterans. They are open to dialogue, always ready to help us and our country, and through them, we obtained a lot of contacts of organizations that provide services for veterans and their families.

The overall goals of our organization are advocacy, research of the veteran community, which has grown significantly since February 24. Before the full-scale invasion, we had approximately 800,000 veterans. And now, the number of people serving in the Armed Forces has increased. After Victory, the veteran community will grow by another million – and this does not take into account the families of veterans and members of the families of fallen defenders. Veterans need somewhere to return to. Special programs, which have already been developed and launched, must work for them, so we need to start right now. It might be late if we start later. That is why we are doing this now. We are moving in this direction, creating quality services for veterans to make their transition as convenient and comfortable as possible for them. Our goal is to make the reintegration and return of defenders less painful, less noticeable, so that they have somewhere to return to and understand that everything they have done, their deeds in the name of the country won’t be forgotten. We  mean for the veterans to feel that the country remembers them, cares for them, the country is grateful.

Our separate focus is veteran entrepreneurship. Many veterans who previously returned from the front to civilian life changed their field of activity, and starting their own business was and remains popular among veterans. Since February 24, many of them have left their businesses and returned to the front. However, the tendency to create one’s own business is still relevant: most “veteran” businesses continue to work. Some have wives working, some have husbands who stayed within civilian life, parents, relatives, friends, colleagues, partners who continue to build business. Therefore, we want to create programs for veteran entrepreneurs so that they have the opportunity to create, develop, expand their business and thus support our economy. Each active business strengthens our economic capabilities, because these are direct taxes to the state budget, which also goes to defense. That’s why everyone is now working for Victory — both those who returned to the front and those who continue to develop their business.

Of course, we have not forgotten about education. This is an important aspect nowadays, especially for people who want to change their field of activity. Educational programs, courses, practical training, advanced training courses, retraining for new professions… This is a great support for our veterans. Specifically, we talked about the creation of scholarships and the development of online and offline courses for everyone. We have already enlisted the support of partners on this issue! All we need is hard work and inspired new students among veterans and their families.

Are there any important agreements for the future?

We have started working with veterans of the US army on an important issue – supporting the families of the fallen, especially children.

We have a significant number of fallen soldiers who had families and children. We have no right to abandon them and are obligated to help these children. To help them grow up, help with education, employment, housing – in short, to help build a future. American veterans also have their own big project that has been caring for the children of fallen veterans for many years. We have agreed to continue working together, studying the needs of our children and the conditions in our country where they are growing up. Since our mentalities in Ukraine and the US are different, we need to understand what we already have, what we don’t, what we should do, and where we need to create something new. We will move in this direction and support our children.

And of course, we have met with non-governmental organizations that are ready to contribute to financial support, fundraise for our projects.

What stands out the most?

Our departure to the United States coincided with the escalation of massive missile strikes on Ukraine. We left on October 10th, when there were missile strikes near the train station, and it was unclear whether we would be able to leave at all. But we managed to cross the ocean and convey to people around the world what was happening in our country. That we are at war, that children are dying, and that we ourselves are ready to relentlessly fight the enemy and all we need is help with anti-aircraft defense complexes, artillery, and heavy weapons. Give us something to fight with, and we are capable of defeating the enemy on our own.

During meetings with the analytical center and analysts from different spheres, there were discussions about how many people in the US had made a mistake by not giving Ukraine more than two weeks, but we not only endured, but also have been relentlessly fighting the enemy. Many in the US have already reconsidered their attitude towards the war and are ready to provide us with financial support, weapons, ammunition, and so on. This was talked about at all meetings, from congressmen and senators to ordinary people we saw on the street. Our delegation included military personnel, and when we walked the streets of Washington, many people stopped to thank us for our service and express their feelings. Ordinary Americans told us that they are following the situation, that we are not alone, that they always support us, that we are great and will definitely win. On the one hand, it is strange to hear, and on the other hand, you are 8,000 kilometers away from home, and people who previously did not even know what Ukraine was are now following the latest news and trying to help in any way they can. It is touching.

And this gratitude for our soldiers’ service is worth a lot.

What is it like to be abroad right now?

It’s difficult. Because you understand that Ukraine is still being bombed, our defenders are dying on the front lines, and you just want to be with your people and continue the war on your own front. Your city is being bombed, your loved ones are in danger, and you’re far away. It’s really exhausting. However, we understood our mission, knew that our work here in Washington was important, because the information war is also a war. In 2014, we really lost the information war, but now we’re winning. We also need to fight in this area.

What does WVM (Women’s Veteran Movement) mean for you?

First of all, it’s like my child, something that you nurture, develop, and create. Something you work on day and night, during any difficulties. I understand that I love this job. The very mission of our Movement speaks of the fact that we must pass Ukraine to our descendants in a better condition than we inherited. And I do everything to make this world, my country, my social bubble, my society truly better. And I’m ready to work hard and passionately for this, and it powers me up, gives me strength and energy to work. And what additionally supports me is the circle of like-minded people. Even if I’m mentally burned out and falling, there are people in WVM who support, love, and value me just for who I am. It really inspires, fills with strength, energy, and the ability to live, work, and move on – and to do something good.