American vets for Ukraine launch group for sustained support

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Katherine Semenyuk gave birth to her fifth child in a bomb shelter in Lutsk, Ukraine, the day that Russia began its invasion of her country in February 2022.

“We had six missiles flying approximately at 6 in the morning, flying and landing right like above our heads,” Semenyuk, 39, told Military Times, adding that she went into labor and had her kid just hours later.

“It was very cold … but I’m not whining about anything because my child is alive, but I know that there are many mothers who lost their children having them in a bunker,” said Semenyuk, who works on a tactical medical instructors team that trains soldiers and others in combat zones at least once a month.

As the war between Ukraine and Russia drags on, leaders in the American veterans community are looking to ensure others do not have to endure similar hardships, announcing this week the formation of a new organization focused on supporting Kyiv in its ongoing war to defend itself.

That non-partisan, non-profit group, American Veterans for Ukraine, kickstarted its effort with an event Thursday in Washington, D.C., ahead of Memorial Day weekend.

“We are grounded in the understanding that there are men and women right now fighting and dying for Ukraine, for freedom, for American national security and for the values that we hold dear,” Paul Rieckhoff, an Army veteran who helped found the group, said at the event.

He and other advocates that created the organization are aiming to drive up public support for Kyiv and secure a continued U.S. government investment in Ukraine’s fight.

“Ukraine should not have their hands tied. They shouldn’t have to beg and plead for the weapons to keep their women and children and civilians safe,” said Rieckhoff, who also started the non-profit Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

Critics of renewing an American financial commitment to Ukraine held up supplemental support to the country for months before it was later signed into law.

The new organization AVU is prioritizing getting more and faster funding to Kyiv from Congress in order to supply the Ukrainians with ammunition to win in battle, Rieckhoff later told Military Times. He added the group plans to make trips to Ukraine to speak with the country’s leaders to then facilitate conversations on that assistance with American lawmakers.

He noted that while various perspectives within the group on where weaponry goes and how it can be used may arise, fundamentally their focus is on the flow of continuing support.

Some Americans have traveled to Ukraine to join the war effort and have lost their lives while volunteering to fight. As of February, nearly 40 of those killed were U.S. veterans, according to a list compiled by Task & Purpose from public sources.

Rieckhoff underscored that he and the other AVU founders, which have worked in the veterans advocacy space for decades, know how to interact within Washington and leverage their relationships and experience to achieve their goals.

Bonnie Carroll, another of AVU’s founders, described how grateful she was to be involved in the organization as an Air Force Reserve veteran. She previously founded the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, TAPS, a national support network for families of America’s fallen heroes, after her husband died in an Army plane crash.

“We will win this,” Carroll said.

Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media

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