Title

Title

Chernobyl
Radioactive and Reclaimed by Nature
Tuesday, June 04, 2019

By Rachel Bauman, Policy Advisor
and Kyle Parker, Senior Senate Staff Representative

Disaster

In the early morning hours of April 26, 1986, during a safety test designed to simulate a power outage, a combination of operator error and inherent flaws in reactor design led to an explosion and fire at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station’s Reactor 4. The graphite fire burned uncontained for nine days, releasing radioactive particles over most of Europe, contaminating Ukraine and neighboring Belarus most severely.

It took nearly two full days for Soviet authorities to begin the evacuation of the approximately 50,000 residents of the nearby city of Pripyat, located just a mile away from the power station. A public admission of the accident only came on the evening of April 28 following diplomatic pressure on the Kremlin from the government of Sweden where, earlier that day, monitors at the Forsmark Nuclear Power Plant north of Stockholm had detected elevated radiation levels and suspected an accident in the Soviet Union. Given the secrecy of the Soviet system, the subjectivity of first-hand accounts, and the breakup of the Soviet Union, some of the why and how of what happened remain controversial.


This amusement park in Pripyat was scheduled to open on May 1, 1986, a few days before the disaster.

Less than six months after the disaster, construction began on nearby Slavutych, a city to replace Pripyat and house the displaced workers from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station and their families. Much work remained to be done to contain and assess the April disaster, not to mention run the remaining three reactors, the last of which ceased to operate only in December 2000. The formal decommissioning process of Reactors 1, 2, and 3 began in 2015 and will continue for decades.

To this day, many residents of Slavutych board a special train for the power station’s workers transiting Belarus to enter the Exclusion Zone for work at the plant and nearby storage facilities for spent nuclear fuel.

Consequences

Thirty-three years after that safety test at Reactor 4 went fatally wrong, the nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station remains the worst in world history, superseding the 1979 partial meltdown of a reactor at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station in Pennsylvania and eclipsing the meltdown of three reactors at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant following damage sustained by a catastrophic tsunami in 2011. The accident at Three Mile Island remains the worst in the history of U.S. commercial atomic energy and ranked a 5 (accident with wider consequences) on the International Atomic Energy Agency’s scale of assessing nuclear and radiological events. Chernobyl and Fukushima are the only two disasters to ever be ranked as a 7 (major accident), the scale’s maximum.

Due to the differences in the half-lives of the specific contaminants, a full remediation and resettlement around Fukushima holds far greater promise than around Chernobyl. If radioactive leakage can be fully contained at Fukushima, there is a chance that the area could be declared completely safe for permanent human habitation in less than 100 years. By comparison, the first zone of exclusion immediately surrounding Chernobyl’s Reactor 4 is likely to remain unsafe for permanent habitation for thousands of years.

The total human, environmental, and financial cost of the disaster is fraught with obvious political sensitivities, but even in the scientific realm, significant disputes remain. The unprecedented magnitude of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster frustrates efforts to draw a definitive conclusion on the lingering effects of the explosion and fire of 1986. While there is wide agreement that somewhere between 30 and 50 people died in the immediate aftermath as a direct result of the accident, consensus breaks down over estimates of a longer-term assessment of deaths attributable to the radioactive fallout from the disaster.

Shortly after the disaster, a zone of approximately 1,000 square miles around Reactor 4 was established, evacuated, and condemned for permanent human habitation. This area—known as the Exclusion or Alienation Zone—has begun the long process of being reclaimed by nature.

The area is divided between Zone 1 and Zones 2 and 3. The first zone is the immediate vicinity around the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station and comprises roughly 15 percent of the total Exclusion Zone. It is also contaminated with transuranium elements that decay over a period of thousands of years, placing this area off-limits indefinitely. Zones 2 and 3 comprise the remaining territory and were largely contaminated with elements that decay much faster. Some of this shorter-term contamination is already gone and the rest could be gone in the coming decades.

The Exclusion Zone is as alive as it is hauntingly empty. Forests encroach on what were once fertile fields. Butterflies flutter above concrete cracked open by saplings. Wild horses roam by day and wolves by night, and entropy takes its toll on man-made construction. It almost seems that the flora and fauna suffered more from proximity to humans than they now do from lingering radiation in the contaminated soil—a phenomenon known as the ecological paradox.

Containment

In those first critical hours after the explosion, when firefighters heroically battled a radioactive blaze, efforts were made to erect temporary barriers around the damaged core of Reactor 4. Those emergency efforts continued once the fire was out, but the hasty construction allowed radiation to continue to escape the confines of the reactor and was structurally unsuitable for containing the deadly transuranium elements inside. In 2018, with the support of the international donor community, Ukraine completed construction on the New Safe Confinement facility designed to safely entomb Reactor 4 for as long as 100 years.


Helsinki Commission policy advisor Rachel Bauman inside the structure containing Reactor 4.

Support from the West, most notably the United States, is critical to safety. Currently, Western contractors are working with Ukrainian partners to complete the construction of a long-term storage facility for spent nuclear fuel from other reactors across the country. Construction is reportedly on, or slightly ahead of, schedule on this facility that is planned to eliminate Ukraine’s need to contract with Russia for its growing storage needs.

Protecting the public from the widely dispersed radioactive particulate found within the Exclusion Zone is the main reason for the establishment of the zone itself as well as the multiple checkpoints encountered when leaving the zone. The most immediate danger to further contamination of habitable areas beyond the Exclusion Zone are wildfires; their smoke disperses contaminated debris into the atmosphere and in the direction of prevailing winds. Ukrainian firefighters have trained regularly with firefighters from the American West as they execute what is not only a domestic priority, but an international responsibility.

Other regular challenges to the safe administration of the Exclusion Zone are trespassers pursuing adventure, souvenirs, or wild game. Risks include not only the obvious danger of radiation exposure, but also crumbling construction and poor communications should a rescue be needed. Trespassers also risk the safety of the broader public by inadvertently transporting radioactive materials outside the Exclusion Zone.

A final, and enduring, challenge to securing the Exclusion Zone lies with waning public interest and thus political pressure to devoting scarce financial resources to protect this beautiful but contaminated landscape for the long term.

The Future

Government authorities plan to use Exclusion Zone 1 for dangerous industrial activities such as storing spent nuclear fuel or developing massive solar panel farms designed to replace some of the electricity that was once generated by the power station’s four reactors. The remainder of the Exclusion Zone will serve as a buffer between habitable areas and Zone 1 as well as a unique nature preserve and massive open-air laboratory to study any lingering effects of the disaster.


Construction site of a future spent storage facility.

As the passage of time has made parts of the Exclusion Zone safer, more and more visitors come to learn about those tragic events of the spring of 1986. Locals are beginning to tap a developing market for nuclear tourism, fueled by politicians, scientists, and thrill-seekers.

When leaving the Exclusion Zone and passing through the last checkpoint, travelers are greeted by tour buses, flag-carrying guides, and a roadside kiosk selling cheap t-shirts. Increasing interest in Chernobyl tours, and particularly the photogenic abandoned town of Pripyat, ensure a steady stream of income. The city may no longer generate power, but it continues to generate interest.

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    WASHINGTON— Today, Helsinki Commission Chairman Joe Wilson (SC-02), Ranking Member Steve Cohen (TN-09), and Commissioner Victoria Spartz (IN-05) made the following statement regarding the announcement by President Biden to send Dual Purpose Improved Conventional Cluster Munitions (DPICMs) to Ukraine: “Our recent meetings with President Zelensky and officials in Kyiv showed the urgency of getting Ukraine the weapons it needs for victory. War requires hard choices and, after writing the President to urge this action, we commend President Biden’s decision to send DPICMs to Ukraine to defend itself against Russia, which has been constantly using cluster munitions in their continued aggression in Ukraine. The Russian Armed Forces and mercenaries violate every aspect of the Helsinki Accords of 1975, commit war crimes against women and children, and continue their genocidal war crimes against the people of Ukraine. The DPICMs will further enable the brave people of Ukraine to defend against Russia’s naked aggression and hasten Russia’s withdrawal from all of Ukraine. We urge President Biden to follow up on this important decision and urgently send Ukraine the MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) to help end Russia’s war crimes and atrocities.” On June 23, Chairman Wilson, Ranking Member Cohen, and Commissioner Spartz sent a letter to President Biden urging the provision of DPICMs to Ukraine. The full letter text is below: Dear President Biden, We urge you to authorize the transfer from the United States dual-purpose improved conventional munition (DPICM) stocks to the Armed Forces of Ukraine to assist in Ukraine’s efforts to defeat and expel Russia’s invading forces. Transferring the DPICMs to Ukraine’s Armed Forces will provide them with an effective and necessary capability to engage area targets, including massed formations of enemy forces, individual targets dispersed over a defined area, targets whose precise location are not known, and time-sensitive or moving targets. Given Russia’s longstanding numerical and material superiority in theater, providing DPICMs to Ukraine will help to provide their Armed Forces with one way to even the battlefield odds broadly, and potentially to create operational breakthroughs that the Ukrainians can exploit to defend and retake their homeland. During the Cold War, DPICMs were developed and fielded specifically to counter Russia’s numerical and material superiority, and now they can be put to their intended use in Ukraine’s defense—and Ukraine’s defense of Europe, and ultimately, U.S. national security. The tactical, military effectiveness of DPICMs is well-known. We understand the resistance to the use of DPICMs as expressed in the 2010 Convention on Cluster Munitions. While the goal of the Convention was to limit the proliferation of such arms out of concern over their indiscriminate use and the risks posed by unexploded ordinance, neither the United States nor Ukraine is a party to the Convention. The Armed Forces of Ukraine have proven to be a responsible steward of U.S. and Western munitions in its defense against the Russian invasion. The United States currently possesses millions of DPICMs rounds in our military stockpiles, the transfer of which will not diminish the capabilities the Department of Defense. As we have with weapons systems such as the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), Tube-Launched, Optically-Tracked, Wire-Guided (TOW) Missiles, 105mm and 155 mm Howitzers, National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems (NASAMS), Stinger anti-aircraft systems, Javelin anti-armor systems, Switchblade Tactical Unmanned aerial Systems, Harpoon Coastal Defense Systems, Abrams Tanks, and F-16 jests, transferring DPICMS to Ukraine presents an opportunity to provide the Ukrainian Armed Forces with a powerful capability to use against the Russian army and mercenary forces. Let us use this untapped, vast arsenal in service of Ukrainian victory, and reclaiming Europe’s peace.

  • Helsinki Commissioners Lead Call for "Clear and Achievable" NATO Path for Ukraine at Vilnius Summit

    WASHINGTON—Last week, members of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, Chairman Representative Joe Wilson (SC-02), Ranking Member Representative Steve Cohen (TN-09), Commissioners Sen. Richard Blumenthal (CT), Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), Rep. Mike Lawler (NY-17), and Rep. Richard Hudson (NC-09) sent a letter to President Biden, requesting he work with our North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies to ensure that Ukraine receives a concrete and achievable pathway to NATO membership at next month’s NATO Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania. Members of Congress Sen. Lindsey Graham (SC), Rep. Lloyd Doggett (TX-37), Rep. Mike Quigley (IL-05), Rep. Marcy Kaptur (OH-09), Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01), Rep. Thomas Kean II (NJ-07), and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18) were co-signatories.    In the letter, the Commissioners emphasize the importance of NATO providing Ukraine a near-term path to membership as part of a forward leaning effort to lay the groundwork for restoring, expanding, and enforcing peace in the region. The Commissioners also highlighted the value Ukraine would bring to NATO as both a model for democratic resilience and a premier military power that has faced Russia in the field.    The letter reads:    Dear President Biden,  In the face of Russia’s wanton aggression, we ask that you work with our NATO allies to ensure Ukraine receives a concrete and achievable pathway to NATO membership at the upcoming NATO Summit.   Next month, leaders from the 31 member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization will gather in Vilnius, Lithuania for what should be the most momentous summit for NATO since the end of the Cold War. The 2022 NATO Summit in Madrid was a critical moment to forge Alliance unity in the face of Russia’s full-scale war of aggression against Ukraine and the very idea of a Europe whole, free, and at peace. However, this year’s summit challenges the Atlantic Alliance to lay the crucial groundwork for restoring that peace, expanding it, and establishing fresh mechanisms to enforce it. It is in that spirit that we urge that the United States should take a forward leaning position in Vilnius and beyond to ensure Ukraine has a concrete, near-term path to NATO membership as soon as conditions allow.   Ukraine’s recovery and Europe’s long-term security depend on our efforts during this moment. Russia could continue to be a threat to Ukraine, a disaster for European peace, and a challenge to U.S. interests around the world. Counting Ukraine as an Ally is also squarely in the Alliance’s self-interest: Ukraine in NATO will be a premier military power and the only European state to have faced Russian forces on the field since the end of the Cold War—and won. Ukrainian membership will also be a powerful expression of our shared values and solidarity with a democratic, open society that has demonstrated remarkable resilience in the face of the unendurable.    It is clear that forward progress on Ukraine’s integration into NATO will not happen without U.S. leadership. Even if establishing a date for Ukraine’s accession may be beyond the reach of this Summit, a clear and achievable pathway to membership, alongside robust security commitments until accession occurs, is the minimum outcome we should expect from the meeting in Vilnius. We urge you to ensure the Alliance’s upcoming Summit truly meets the demands of this fraught moment and lays the foundation for a more peaceful, prosperous and secure Europe.   Click the PDF icon above for the full letter.

  • Helsinki Commission Chairman and Ranking Member Introduce Bill to Confiscate Russian Assets

    Today, Helsinki Commission Chairman Representative Joe Wilson (SC-02) and Ranking Member Representative Steve Cohen (TN-09) introduced the bipartisan Rebuilding Economic Prosperity and Opportunity (REPO) for Ukrainians Act in the House of Representatives, alongside Rep. Michael McCaul (TX-10), Rep. Thomas Kean Jr. (NJ-21), Rep. Mike Quigley (IL-05), Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01), and Rep. Marcy Kaptur (OH-09). The legislation has also been introduced in the Senate by Commissioner Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) and Senator Jim Risch (ID). The bill authorizes the administration to confiscate Russian assets in the United States for Ukrainian reconstruction and calls on international allies to create a confiscation mechanism for assets stored in other countries.   “Russia will foot the bill for its brutal war in Ukraine. We will use war criminal Putin’s own money to rebuild what he has ripped away from the Ukrainian people. It is common sense that Putin be the one to rebuild what he has destroyed,” said Chairman Joe Wilson.   “Russia must be held accountable for its brutal and unprovoked war. This legislation will ensure that every cent of Russian money in western systems is made available to the Ukrainian people to remedy the horrific acts that Russia has inflicted upon them. It is a matter of basic justice that the perpetrator pays for their crimes,” said Ranking Member Steve Cohen.  [View the legislation text by clicking the PDF icon above]

  • COMMISSIONERS CALL ON WHITE HOUSE TO TRANSFER ATACMS TO UKRAINE

    WASHINGTON—Yesterday, members of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, Chairman Representative Joe Wilson (SC-02), Ranking Member Representative Steve Cohen (TN-09) and Commissioner Representative Victoria Spartz (IN-05) sent a letter to President Biden, requesting he grants the transfer of MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) to Ukraine.  In the letter, Commissioners thank the Administration for its beginning steps on getting F-16s to Ukrainian defenders and emphasize the importance of ATACMS on targeting Russian frontlines in occupied Ukraine as well as pushing back Russian supply chain systems which fuel their genocidal war. During the Commissioners’ recent trip to Ukraine and meeting with President Zelensky, ATACMS were requested for an immediate battlefield advantage. These powerful weapons could provide the advantage Ukraine needs to secure its freedom, and the only remaining hurdle to their delivery is the President’s approval.      The letter reads:    Dear President Biden,    We urge you to send the MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) to Ukraine. From the very beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion, Ukraine requested ATACMS to defend and reclaim their homes in the face of the Kremlin’s genocidal war of conquest. This powerful weapon system would go a long way to ensuring full Ukrainian victory now, while helping deter future Russian threats against Ukraine, the wider region, and Europe as a whole.  We thank the administration for beginning the process of getting F-16s to Ukraine, as these jet fighters will make a huge difference toward achieving full Ukrainian victory. On our recent trip to Ukraine, we heard how the Ukrainian army is holding its own against Russia in all areas except the sky. But long-range missiles are also necessary for victory. ATACMS would make an immediate battlefield difference for Ukraine. With an effective range of nearly 200 miles, virtually all major Russian units, naval assets, and strategic infrastructure in occupied Ukrainian territory would be within reach of precision strikes. This would not only help Ukraine degrade or destroy Russian weapons of war used to murder Ukrainian defenders and civilians but would also push Russian units and supply chains further from the front, dramatically complicating sustainment and their ability to continue prosecuting this genocidal war. The fewer supplies and arms that reach Russian forces, the less capable they are of holding Ukrainian territory and killing its people. ATACMS will save Ukrainian lives.  Unlike many other weapons which require extensive training and long logistical chains, ATACMS are fired from widely used and available M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System(HIMARS) platform and could be fielded immediately. This is critical in Ukraine where time is of the essence. Ukraine must win as quickly as possible to prevent the needless loss of anymore courageous Ukrainians and to end the war in the only sustainable way: Ukrainian victory.  Now that the United Kingdom has delivered Storm Shadow cruise missiles, there is no reason to withhold ATACMS from Ukraine. We must trust the Ukrainians to use our long-range missiles responsibly, just as our British allies have. The Ukrainians have shown repeatedly that they will use every weapon system responsibly and to maximum effect.  Ukraine can win the war this year if the United States and our democratic allies transfer all weapons necessary. A defeat or even a military stalemate against Russia’s genocidal invasion would be a catastrophe for our national security and guarantee renewed Russian attacks on Ukraine and broader aggression in Europe. Once Ukraine has achieved victory on its terms, ATACMS, along with other long-range and advanced weapons, will be a primary means of deterring and constraining future Russian aggression. Russian forces will not be able to stage for a future invasion, or threaten the Black Sea region at will, under the shadow of Ukrainian long-range capabilities.  We understand that there are concerns the United States does not have enough ATACMS to send to Ukraine. However, many democratic allies also possess ATACMS and forming an international coalition for the transfer of ATACMS, much like has been done with jets and tanks, could help alleviate these concerns. Moreover, the point of these weapons is to protect U.S. national security and the security of our allies, which Ukraine is currently doing alone. The transfer of our ATACMS is logical and urgent under these circumstances.  Now that the decision has been made to send F-16s, now is the time to commit to Ukraine’s full victory and deliver all the tools needed. Nearly every weapon system requested by Ukraine has been delivered after intense pressure. Let us not wait for another pressure campaign to deliver ATACMS. In the spirit of proactivity, deterrence, and mindful of the innocent Ukrainian lives lost the longer Russia is allowed to continue its war, we urge your administration to send these war-winning weapons to Ukraine immediately.  [Click on the PDF icon above to view the full letter]

  • CHAIRMAN WILSON LEADS BIPARTISAN DELEGATION TO GERMANY, POLAND, AND UKRAINE

    WASHINGTON—From May 1st to May 7th, Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) led a bipartisan U.S. delegation to Germany, Poland, and Ukraine to coordinate support for Ukraine and examine current wartime challenges. The delegation consulted with high-ranking government officials and civil society actors regarding ongoing military and humanitarian responses to the Russian invasion. Chairman Wilson was joined on the delegation by Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) and Commissioner Victoria Spartz (IN-05). “Friends of democracy are inspired by courageous Ukrainians capably supported by our appreciated western allies, like Germany and Poland, in the global competition between democracies with rule of law opposing authoritarians with rule of gun. “Ukraine must win this war against Russia’s brutal aggression — there is no alternative. Ukraine must be restored to its internationally recognized 1991 borders and integrated into NATO and other Euro-Atlantic institutions. The United States must work with its allies and partners to ensure that the leaders of the Russian Federation are held accountable. “Despite promises after World War II of ‘never again,’ today, in 2023, Russia is committing the very crimes that the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg was created to address: the crime of aggression, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. As in Nuremberg, we must bring to justice the perpetrators of the genocide being carried out in Ukraine – including war criminal Putin himself,” said Chairman Wilson and Ranking Member Cohen. In Germany, the delegation met with high-level defense and foreign affairs officials to discuss Germany’s partnership in ensuring Ukrainian victory. In Berlin, the Commissioners met with National Security Advisor Jens Ploetner, Ministry of Foreign Affairs State Secretary Andreas Michaelis, and Ministry of Justice State Secretary Dr. Angelika Schlunck who provided assurances of sustained support for Ukraine. In a visit to the Nuremburg Palace of Justice, site of the Nuremberg trials, the delegation drew obvious parallels to accountability for Russia’s criminal aggression against Ukraine. After visiting Nuremberg, Lieutenant General Andrew Rohling welcomed the delegation to the 7th Army Grafenwoehr Training Area where Ukrainian troops are being trained. In Ukraine, the delegation visited Bucha and Kyiv joined by U.S. Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation Michael Carpenter and U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink. In Bucha, survivors testified to mass murder of civilians by Russian soldiers and the delegation paid homage to the victims. In Kyiv, the delegation met with Ukrainian children who had been taken to Russia and Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine as part of a Russian effort to erase their identity and forcibly assimilate them. Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov highlighted Ukraine’s military needs and mechanisms of accountability for international assistance. The delegation met with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy who expressed the urgent need for F-16 fighter aircraft to defend his people and keep open sea-lanes for Ukrainian wheat vital to feeding Europe, Africa, and the world. President Zelenskyy expressed his deep gratitude to the United States for supporting Ukraine’s fight for freedom. In Poland, the delegation visited Rzeszów where Colonel Matt Braman and Colonel Kendall Clark briefed on the activities of the 10th Mountain Division. The delegation also met with the Polish border service and non-governmental organizations working near the border to prevent Ukrainian refugees from falling victim to human traffickers. Warsaw was the concluding stop for consultations with U.S. Ambassador Mark Brzezinski, Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Arkadiusz Mularczyk and OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Director Matteo Mecacci. The delegation thanked Poland for supporting Ukraine and welcoming millions of Ukrainians who have fled Russian terror.

  • CHURCH, STATE, AND RUSSIA’S WAR ON UKRAINE

    The Putin regime has long used the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) to consolidate its power at home and abroad. Under the leadership of Patriarch Kirill, the ROC has explicitly endorsed Russia’s war on Ukraine, even blessing weapons for the invasion. Churches under the mantle of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) had long been viewed as actual or potential surveillance and influence outposts for the Putin regime, directly contributing to the official establishment of the independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine in 2019. Additionally, the Putin regime has exported its widespread internal persecution of non-ROC-affiliated Christians to the territories it occupies in Ukraine. This hearing will assess Putin’s political control over ROC institutions and the implications for Ukraine’s religious and political culture. Relatedly, panelists will speak to harassment and denial of religious freedoms in territories occupied by Russia. Witnesses will also testify to how religious institutions, churches, and individual Christians have supported Ukraine in wartime and the future of church-state relations within Ukraine. His Beatitude Epiphaniy, Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Ukraine, will give opening remarks. Related information: Witness Biographies

  • BIPARTISAN UKRAINE VICTORY RESOLUTION INTRODUCED IN HOUSE AND SENATE

    WASHINGTON— Yesterday, Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) and Ranking Member Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) introduced the Ukraine Victory Resolution in the House of Representatives. Commissioners Sen. Richard Blumenthal (CT) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), along with Sen. Lindsey Graham (SC), introduced the resolution in the Senate. The resolution affirms that it is the policy of the United States to see Ukraine victorious against the Russian invasion, holds that the peace brought by victory must be secured by integrating Ukraine into NATO, and declares that the United States must work with its allies and partners to secure reparations, reconstruction, justice for Russian war crimes, and accountability for Russian leaders.  “Ukrainian victory is the only path to peace. We must ensure that Ukraine is well-armed and outfitted so that the upcoming counteroffensive can meet expectations and Ukraine can win the war as quickly as possible. Ukrainian victory is good for U.S. national security and economic stability, denies Putin any reward for its invasion, and deters China and Iran. Ukraine’s existence depends on victory,” said Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson.  “Ukrainian victory is also critical for the United States. Ukraine is preventing an incursion into NATO and demonstrating to autocrats that borders cannot be changed by force alone—a fundamental underpinning of the peaceful international system. The Ukrainian fight is our common fight. There is no alternative to victory,” said Ranking Member Rep. Steve Cohen.  “Ukraine will win the war—and win the peace—if America continues its steadfast support as this resolution strongly states,” said Senator Blumenthal. “True victory means stopping Russia’s murderous assault, imposing accountability for crimes against humanity, and rebuilding Ukraine at Russia’s expense. To our NATO allies as well as Ukraine, our message must be that we’ll have your back in this fight for freedom and democracy—yours and ours together,” said Commissioner Sen. Richard Blumenthal.  “This bipartisan, bicameral resolution says what we all know to be true – that Ukrainian victory is in the best interest of every democracy on earth,” said Senator Whitehouse.  “Putin’s brutal war seeks to steal Ukraine’s land and its future.  The United States and our allies have played, and should continue to play, a leading role in securing everything Ukraine needs to achieve victory and rebuild.  I join my colleagues in sending a clear message to the people of Ukraine: we are with you to victory,” said Commissioner Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse.  “I enthusiastically support the concept of victory for Ukraine, which is possible with aggressive Western help, particularly in the area of weapons. The Russian army has been dealt a severe blow. It is now time to go all in for victory for Ukraine. That means continuing to provide them the weapons they need to repel the Russian invaders, labeling Putin’s Russia a state sponsor of terrorism and lending our voice to holding Putin and his cronies accountable for war crimes committed on an industrial scale. Victory for Ukraine is possible, but we have to be all in,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham.  Ukraine regained its independence in 1991 after three centuries of Moscow’s imperial rule. In 1994, the United States encouraged Ukraine to abandon its arsenal of nuclear weapons, the third largest in the world at the time, in exchange for security assurances in the Budapest Memorandum. The Ukrainians have had two revolutions since independence, the 2004 Orange Revolution and the 2014 Revolution of Dignity, demonstrating their commitment to shared ideals of democracy and freedom and their desire for Euro-Atlantic integration.  In 2008, at the Bucharest NATO Summit, NATO states declared, “NATO welcomes Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership in NATO. We agree today that these countries will become members of NATO.” Russia initially invaded Ukraine in 2014 and massively escalated its invasion in 2022.  In 2022, the UN General Assembly called on member states to create a mechanism for reparations to be paid to Ukraine. In 2023, the United States issued a finding that Russian officials have committed crimes against humanity.  Original cosponsors of the resolution in the House of Representatives also include: Mike Lawler (NY-17), Richard Hudson (NC-09), Emanuel Cleaver (MO-05), Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Mike Quigley (IL-05), Doug Lamborn (CO-05), Bill Pascrell (NJ-08), Maria Elvira Salazar (FL-27), Brendan Boyle (PA-02), Lloyd Doggett (TX-37), Deborah Ross (NC-02), Jim Costa (CA-21), David Trone (MD-06), Joe Morelle (NY-25), Susan Wild (PA-07), and Marcy Kaptur (OH-09).  Click on the PDF icon above to view the resolution.

  • Helsinki Commissioners re-introduce Ukrainian Genocide Resolution in the House and Senate

    Today, Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02), Commissioners Rep. Marc Veasey (TX-33), Rep. Richard Hudson (NC-09), Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver (MO-05) along with Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Lloyd Doggett (TX-37), Bill Keating (MA-09), Maria Elvira Salazar (FL-27), Marcy Kaptur (OH-09), Mike Quigley (IL-05), Bill Pascrell (NJ-09), André Carson (IN-07), Brendan Boyle (PA-02), introduced a resolution condemning Russian actions in Ukraine as a genocide under applicable international laws in the 118th Congress.   The resolution was also re-introduced in the U.S. Senate on February 16th by Helsinki Commission Co-Chair Senator Ben Cardin (MD) and Senator Jim Risch (ID). Commissioners Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Sen. Thom Tillis (NC), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (CT) as well as Senators Lindsey Graham (SC), Michael Crapo (ID), Tim Kaine (VA), Rick Scott (FL), Amy Klobuchar (MN), Shelley Moore Capito (WV), Joe Manchin (WV), John Barrasso (WY), Patty Murray (WA), Marco Rubio (FL), and Todd Young (IN) joined Sens. Cardin and Risch as original co-sponsors.    The resolution calls on the United States, along with NATO and EU allies, to support the government of Ukraine, support tribunals and investigations on Russian war crimes, use the Global Magnitsky sanctions on those responsible, and describes the substantial and significant evidence of Russia’s systemic actions to eliminate Ukrainians. The Commission applauds this vital resolution to hold Russia accountable for their atrocities.   For more information click here. The resolution was first introduced in the 117th Congress in the House of Representatives by Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Rep. Steve Cohen and Chairman Joe Wilson, along with Commissioners Marc Veasey, Richard Hudson, and Representatives Brian Fitzpatrick and Marcy Kaptur, along with companion legislation in the Senate by Helsinki Commission Co-Chair Sen. Ben Cardin and Sen. Jim Risch. 

  • U.S. Delegation to the OSCE PA presents Joint Statement on Russia’s War in Ukraine

    WASHINGTON— Today, the U.S. Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE PA) endorsed the “Joint Statement of Action on the One-Year Anniversary of Russia’s War Against Ukraine and the International Legal Order,” which was endorsed by the OSCE PA Bureau and published today at the conclusion of the 2023 OSCE PA Winter Meeting. Members of the U.S. Delegation include Head of Delegation and Helsinki Commission Co-Chair Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Helsinki Commission Chair Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02), Ranking Member Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Commissioners Rep. Robert Aderholt (AL-04), Rep. Richard Hudson (NC-09), and Rep. Marc Veasey (TX-33). Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18) and Rep. Lloyd Doggett (TX-37) also participated in the delegation.    Following a dedicated debate marking the one-year anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Assembly issued the statement to condemn Russia’s years-long clear, gross, and uncorrected violations of its commitments under the 1975 Helsinki Final Act and subsequent OSCE commitments.   Click here to read the Joint Statement  

  • Steadfast Support for Ukraine: United States Delegation Hosts Ukrainian and Partner Country Parliamentarians on the Margins of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly

    WASHINGTON – Today, the United States Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE PA), led by Senator Ben Cardin (MD), met with Mykyta Poturaiev, Ukraine’s Head of Delegation and additional representatives of the Ukrainian Rada in Vienna, Austria, along with the Heads of Delegation of Canada, Estonia, France, Latvia, Poland, and the United Kingdom. On the eve of the one-year anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the parliamentary leaders in attendance pledged their sustained and steadfast support for Ukraine to counter Russian aggression:  “We will continue to stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes to restore Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty over its 1991 borders. A year after Russia’s unprovoked full-scale invasion of Ukraine, we recommit to combining our efforts to redress this injustice and hold Russia to account for its crimes, including by seeking its suspension from the Parliamentary Assembly (PA). We further urge the PA to host annual sessions and meetings in OSCE participating States prepared to block the participation of Russia’s representatives. We will not allow Russia’s reprehensible propaganda to go unchallenged at the OSCE PA or any other international forum. The world must hold Russia accountable for its aggression and for the war crimes, crimes against humanity, and acts of genocide it is committing against the people of Ukraine. All of us are committed to the recovery and reconstruction of Ukraine and seek restitution from Russia to this end.  “To the people of Ukraine: as you suffer Russia’s attacks on your cities and fight the aggressor in the battlefield, know that you are never alone in your courageous struggle for a secure and democratic future. As missiles rain down and the lights go out, and as you mourn all those you have lost, we mourn with you and share your fight for Ukrainian victory. You have our admiration and above all, our gratitude, as we remain resolutely at your side in solidarity and partnership.”  Joining U.S. Head of DelegationSenator Ben Cardin were delegation members Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02), Ranking Member Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Commissioners Rep. Robert Aderholt (AL-04), Rep. Richard Hudson (NC-09), Rep. Marc Veasey (TX-33), and Representatives Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18) and Lloyd Doggett (TX-37).  The Ukrainian delegation consisted of Mr. Mykyta Poturaiev, Head of Delegation; Mr. Artur Gerasymov, Deputy Head of Delegation, Mr. Pavlo Frolov, Ms. Irina Gerashchenko, Ms. Evgeniia Kravchuk, and Ms. Nataliia Pipa.  Heads of delegations present included Dr. Hedy Fry (Canada), Mr. Sven Sester (Estonia), Mr. Didier Paris (France), Mr. Rihards Kols (Latvia), Ms. Barbara Bartuś (Poland), and Sir John Whittingdale (United Kingdom). 

  • Helsinki Commissioners Announce Re-Introduction of HARM Act

    Today, Helsinki Commissioners Steve Cohen, Joe Wilson, Marc Veasey,  Richard Hudson, Ruben Gallego and Brian Fitzpatrick along with Representatives Ted Lieu, Maria Salazar and Marcy Kaptur, re-introduced the Holding Accountable Russian Mercenaries (HARM) Act in the House of Representatives, bipartisan legislation that would require the Secretary of State to designate the Russian-based mercenary Wagner Group as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO).  The Commission applauds this vital piece of legislation to hold Wagner accountable for the terror it inflicts in Ukraine and elsewhere.  For more information click here.   The HARM Act was first introduced in the last Congress by Helsinki Commission Chair Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) and Ranking Member Roger Wicker (MI), along with companion legislation in the House of Representatives led by Reps. Steve Cohen and Joe Wilson, Richard Hudson, and Marc Veasey.

  • Saving Ukraine's Children

    Ukraine’s children are suffering serious injury and trauma due to Russia’s genocidal war on Ukraine. Almost two-thirds of the country’s children have been displaced. Thousands have been injured and, although UNICEF has said more than 1,000 children have been killed, that number is likely much higher as there is no reliable way to verify how many civilians have been killed in the most decimated areas of Ukraine, like Mariupol, where, for example, Russian forces bombed a theater housing hundreds of civilians despite clear markings that children were present. And in addition to its immediate danger, the effects of war on children could have lasting consequences. Many Ukrainian children have witnessed unimaginable violence, including the murders of their own parents or family members. They have had to endure the stress of almost constant bombardment, in fear for their safety. Others have experienced hunger, cold, and weeks spent hiding in wet, frigid basements without daylight or fresh air and without sanitation or healthcare. Disruptions to education may never be fully recovered. Ukrainian children are also being forcibly taken to Russia and put up for adoption into Russian families in an apparent effort to assimilate them, a practice that genocide scholar Timothy Snyder has said could be considered genocide under the 1948 Genocide Convention. The U.S. State Department has said Russian authorities have deliberately separated Ukrainian children from their parents during so-called “filtration” procedures and abducted others from orphanages before putting them up for adoption inside Russia and estimated that the number may be as high as 260,000. Unaccompanied minors are also vulnerable to falling prey to human trafficking.

  • No Safe Haven: Launching the US-Europe Coalition on Russia Sanctions

    Since February 24, 2022, Western countries have imposed sanctions against Russian officials, businessmen, and public figures who support Russian aggression against Ukraine by financial or political means. Personal sanctions have been effective in creating tension between Putin’s proponents and continuing to help Ukraine fight for its independence. The biggest issue of personal sanctions policy is desynchronization among the countries imposing them. For example, when the United States enacts sanctions against politicians, public officials, and businessmen who support Russia’s war, the European Union and the United Kingdom do not. A similar dysfunction occurs when the European Union and Great Britain enforce sanctions on individuals without equal participation from the United States. The unity of the West in imposing sanctions on those driving Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine is essential for Ukrainian victory. This public briefing united seven legislators from the United States, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Lithuania, Estonia, and Poland. The panelists will announce the creation of the US-Europe Coalition on Russia Sanctions, which will synchronize the sanctions policy between the European Union, Ukraine, and the USA.

  • Helsinki Commission Announces Briefing on US-Europe Coalition for Russia Sanctions

    WASHINGTON—At a virtual kickoff event on December 13, Co-Chairman Cohen and Ranking Member Wilson launched the US-Europe Coalition on Russia Sanctions.   NO SAFE HAVEN Launching the US-Europe Coalition on Russia Sanctions   Tuesday, December 13, 2022 8:30 a.m. EST   Since February 24, 2022, Western countries have imposed sanctions against Russian officials, businessmen, and public figures who support Russian aggression against Ukraine by financial or political means. Personal sanctions have been effective in creating tension between Putin’s proponents and continuing to help Ukraine fight for its independence. The biggest issue of personal sanctions policy is desynchronization among the countries imposing them. For example, when the United States enacts sanctions against politicians, public officials, and businessmen who support Russia’s war, the European Union and the United Kingdom do not. A similar dysfunction occurs when the European Union and Great Britain enforce sanctions on individuals without equal participation from the United States. The unity of the West in imposing sanctions on those driving Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine is essential for Ukrainian victory. This public briefing will unite seven legislators from the United States, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Lithuania, Estonia, and Poland. The panelists will announce the creation of the US-Europe Coalition on Russia Sanctions, which will synchronize the sanctions policy between the European Union, Ukraine, and the USA. The following panelists are scheduled to participate:   Representative Steve Cohen — Member of Congress, Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, United States Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson — Member of Congress, Commissioner of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, United States Member of Parliament Oleksii Goncharenko — Chairman of the Ukrainian parliament caucuses "For free Caucasus" and "For democratic Belarus", Ukraine Member of Parliament Dr. Robert Seely, MBE — British Conservative Party politician who has served as the Member of Parliament (MP) for the Isle of Wight since June 2017. Member of Parliament Eerik Kross — head of the Estonian delegation in PACE, Estonia Member of the EU Parliament Petras Austrevicius — serves on the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Lithuania Member of the Sejm Arkadius Mularczyk — Secretary of State for European Affairs, Leader of the Polish delegation to the Council of Europe, Poland    

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