I learned that every member of the staff at the US Embassy in Kyiv, led by our courageous and visionary ambassador, Bridget Brink, volunteered for the duty. They were separated from their families and living for months on end in hotel rooms. They are tasked with overseeing one of the largest US aid efforts since the Marshall Plan, ensuring that tens of thousands of individual pieces of US military hardware in Ukrainian hands are properly accounted for, rebuilding an embassy that was gutted before Russia’s invasion and keeping tabs on Russian war crimes – some 95,000 of which have so far been documented by the Ukrainian attorney general.

I learned what it was like to sit in conference rooms and walk down corridors that would soon be shattered by Russian ordnance. On Tuesday I joined a diplomatic group led by Administrator Samantha Power of the United States Agency for International Development on a visit to the port of Odessa. Power met first with Ukrainian officials to discuss logistical options for their exports after Putin’s withdrawal from the grain deal, then with farmers to discuss issues such as demining their fields and de-risking their finances. The majestic Port Authority building in which the meetings took place, a purely civilian purpose, was struck barely a day after our departure.

I learned that Ukrainians have no interest in turning their victimization into an identity. Years ago, in Belgrade, I saw how the Serbian government preserved the ruins of its old defense ministry, hit by NATO bombs in the 1999 Kosovo war, in accordance with its self-pitying perceptions of that war. By contrast, in Bucha, the Kyiv suburb that suffered some of the worst atrocities during Russia’s brief occupation in the early days of the war, I witnessed the transformation of apartment buildings riddled with patched bullet holes into trendy co-working spaces. As Anatoliy Fedoruk, the mayor of Bucha, told Power, “Memory will remain in memoirs but residents want to rebuild without reminders.”

I learned that Ukrainians are not likely to trade sovereign territory for Western security assurances, let alone any kind of armistice agreement with Moscow. They tried the first in the 1990s with the Budapest Memorandum, in which they surrendered the nuclear arsenal on their soil to Russia for toothless guarantees of territorial integrity. They tried the latter with the equally remorseless Minsk agreements after Russia’s first invasion in 2014. The goal of Western policy should be to provide Ukraine with the military resources they need to to winrather than pressuring Ukraine to once again bargain away its rights to sovereignty and security in order to ease our concerns about Russian escalation.

I learned that, for all the help we gave to Ukraine, we were the real beneficiaries in the relationship, and they were the real benefactors. Ben Wallace, Britain’s usually thoughtful defense secretary, suggested after this month’s NATO summit that Ukrainians should show more gratitude to their arms suppliers. That reverses the relationship. NATO countries pay for their long-term security with money that is cheap and munitions that are replaceable. Ukrainians count their costs in lives and limbs lost.

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