President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy meets with U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Nov. 20, 2023.

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy meets with U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Nov. 20, 2023. (President of Ukraine)

KYIV — Ukrainian officials expressed gratitude and relief Saturday after the U.S. House of Representatives approved $60.8 billion in aid to Ukraine, overcoming months of intense Republican opposition to fund urgently needed weapons for the country’s military.

“The vital U.S. aid bill passed today by the House will keep the war from expanding, save thousands and thousands of lives, and help both of our nations to become stronger,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy wrote on X.

The decision on the bill, which also includes funds to help keep Ukraine’s government running, came after airstrikes hit several major cities in the past week, including Chernihiv and Dnipro, killing dozens of people. Ukraine, which is also running low on air defense, said the strikes could have been avoided if it had better supplies.

Meanwhile, on the front lines in the country’s east, Russian forces have also been pushing toward the strategic town of Chasiv Yar, outside of Bakhmut, which fell to Russia last year. Ukrainian troops have for many months complained that they are rationing shells as they run out of key ammunition, making it impossible to push the Russians back - let alone prevent their advance.

The U.S. Senate will still need to vote on the bill before it goes to President Biden to sign. But Ukraine and its supporters have now passed through the largest hurdle in the House, where Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) refused for months to take the aid to a vote. His change of heart ignited fury among far-right members of Congress who oppose sending further aid to Ukraine and threatened to oust him if he moved forward with the vote.

“The people of Ukraine are sincerely grateful to the U.S. Congress,” Andriy Yermak, head of Ukraine’s presidential office, posted on X after the Saturday vote.

Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, who has recently intensified his quest to secure more Patriot air defense systems for Ukraine, wrote on X that Saturday marked “a bad day for [Russian President Vladimir] Putin.”

“A bad day for anyone who dared to believe that America could waver when it comes to defending what and who it stands for,” he wrote.

Ukraine has said that it will need 26 Patriot systems to cover the entire country. It has only three, and Germany recently pledged to send another. Kuleba is pushing European partners to hand over their Patriots, insisting they are more urgently needed in Ukraine than in the European Union.

Ukraine’s pleas intensified this week after the United States and other partners helped deflect a massive Iranian missile and drone attack on Israel, engaging in a way they have refused to in Ukraine. Kyiv saw the intervention as setting a double-standard, made more frustrating due to the aid package also being delayed on the Hill.

European leaders echoed Ukraine’s thanks to the House on Saturday - with some hinting that months of delays were unnecessary.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk thanked Johnson on X, then wrote: “Better late than too late. And I hope it is not too late for Ukraine.”

E.U. foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who had urged Congress to act on the bill, said he welcomed the vote. “Ukraine will have the transatlantic support it needs to stand up to Russian aggression,” he wrote on X.

E.U. Council President Charles Michel said the vote “sends a clear message to the Kremlin: Those who believe in freedom and [the] U.N. charter will continue to support Ukraine and its people.”

Katarina Mathernova, the E.U. ambassador to Ukraine, wrote that the bill’s passage was “much much needed good news for all Ukrainians!!!!”

“Historic decisions change history,” wrote Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis. “Good to have you back, America.” Reactions from Moscow were far more critical.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted in Russian state media outlet Tass as saying that the aid “will further enrich the United States of America and ruin Ukraine even more, by killing even more Ukrainians because of the Kyiv regime.”

Still, support for the vote resonated throughout much of Europe, and Ukrainian lawmakers added to the chorus of gratitude. Kira Rudik, who belongs to the liberal Holos party, posted on X: “Omg, on behalf of Ukrainian people; THANK YOU!!!!”

Lawmaker Oleksandra Ustinova wrote that American “support will save lives in Ukraine.”

Opposition lawmaker Oleksiy Goncharenko, who traveled to Washington to try to secure support for the vote, urged the world not to forget that Russia’s military budget still far exceeds Ukraine’s. “Today we won the time - not the war,” he wrote. “We will need to finish the job.”

He added that it “would be great” for another message to come out of Washington during the NATO summit in July. “To invite Ukraine to NATO,” he wrote. “That will be decisive.”

Inna Sovsun, also from the Holos party, wrote on X that “Ukraine is very grateful!”

She added: “Just a question: was it necessary to delay half a year in order to vote? How many lives could have been saved?” Reached by text late Saturday night, one Ukrainian soldier fighting on the front line in the country’s south said he and his fellow troops did not watch the vote live. “There are other things [to watch],” he wrote with a smiley face. Then he shared footage of his unit dropping bombs on a Russian artillery position.

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