Former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe visits entrance line in Ukraine

KYIV, Ukraine — Former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe used to be only a few miles from the entrance line in jap Ukraine this month when he climbed into an underground command bunker and watched survive a drone feed as Ukrainian troops struck a Russian tank shifting within reach.

“We watched them get ’em with the drone. We watched ’em call in the fire, watched ’em destroy the tank,” McAuliffe, who is also a former Democratic National Committee chairman, recalled in an interview from the Ukrainian capital a few days later. “We saw three guys running into a trench… whoosh!”

McAuliffe, 66, was in Ukraine on what he described as a personal “fact-finding mission” and a political rival might call a risky foray into war tourism: a seven-day trip in which he traveled some 1,900 miles by road from Poland to Kyiv to front line regions in the east and south and back again.

The goal, he said, was to raise awareness about the real toll of the war among policymakers and business owners in the United States who might then ramp up their support for Ukraine’s war and rebuilding efforts. The material also proved useful in a conversation with Christiane Amanpour on CNN and in an interview with The Washington Post.

Traveling as a private citizen, McAuliffe said, allowed him the freedom to “go anywhere I wanted … talk to anyone I wanted,” unlike visiting US officials constrained — and protected — by protocol and safety regulations.

“I said, if I’m going, I want to see it all, so I can go back and tell everybody, ‘Here is the best thing to do,’” he mentioned. “And I additionally need to move to the entrance.”

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McAuliffe, a former businessman and a mega-fundraiser for President Bill Clinton, went on to become a power player in Democratic politics. He served as governor from 2014 to 2018, lost a bid to get the job back in 2021 and briefly harbored presidential aspirations in 2020. He does not currently hold any office, though he has been rumored to be up for a top job in the Biden administration. Last year, President Biden appointed McAuliffe’s wife, Dorothy, as the State Department’s special representative for global partnerships — a role in which she oversees public-private partnerships that advance US interests.

McAuliffe had Biden’s strong backing in his 2021 race (consecutive terms are barred in Virginia) but lost to Republican Glenn Youngkin. McAuliffe then raised millions for Democratic candidates in the 2022 midterms through his PAC, called Common Good Virginia.

Last month, the McAuliffes joined the Clintons in Belfast at a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement that brought an end to the period of sectarian violence known as the Troubles. They were also on the guest list for a December state dinner with French President Emmanuel Macron in Washington. There has been speculation that President Biden may one day tap him for a Cabinet position or ambassadorship.

McAuliffe mentioned he used to be now not in Ukraine on the behest of Biden or any reliable — however that he “instructed buddies I used to be coming” and when he returned, planned “to let everyone know the entirety I noticed.”

The trip to an active war zone was highly unusual. It was planned after a chance encounter at a party at the French ambassador’s residence in Washington in January, he said. In attendance was Veronika Velch, a Ukrainian public affairs specialist who works for the Washington firm Ridgely Walsh, which registered last year to lobby as a foreign agent for Ukraine.

Velch’s husband, Oleg Sentsov, is a distinguished Ukrainian filmmaker and author. who used to be arrested by means of Russian forces in Crimea in 2014 and later went on starvation strike in a Russian jail. He used to be launched in a 2019 alternate and is now combating in Ukraine.

“We began speaking about Ukraine,” McAuliffe said. “And I saved announcing, what do you want?”

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Velch traveled with McAuliffe and other contacts working to support the Ukrainian military who helped organize the visit, including logistics and security.

McAuliffe arrived in Ukraine the primary week of May as Russia ramped up its moves at the capital.

His first night in Kyiv, as he settled into a hotel in the center of the city, air raid sirens went off and Ukrainian air defenses activated to intercept an incoming Russian assault. The security team he was traveling with had laid out a flak jacket and helmet on his bed, which he donned later on in the trip.

There had been “a wide variety of explosions within the air,” he said. “Needless to mention, I did not return to sleep.”

After dawn, “we went out, I began strolling round and it is similar to commonplace,” he mentioned. “They live with this every single day. And that was amazing to me.”

In Kyiv, he met with government officials to discuss how Ukraine can rebuild its infrastructure damaged due to the Russian invasion — tapping, he said, into his experience investing “billions on our rail or our roads” in Virginia.

“As one minister said to me: ‘Thanks for coming. We got to put the seeds down. We can’t wait ’til the war is over. We’ve got to start doing this now,’” he mentioned.

He additionally visited households displaced by means of the warfare and Ukrainian youngsters who had been forcibly separated from their households and moved to Russia. One mom, he mentioned, recalled weeping as she watched her son board a bus to Russian territory. It can be six months sooner than they had been reunited.

“I asked him if he’d been abused at all,” McAuliffe mentioned. “He said no. He said… he saw one young girl get hit with an iron bar.”

McAuliffe persisted: “You can come over here and see these little kids with their eyes wide as cue balls pleading just somebody help them. Oh! It’s gut-wrenching.”

Ukrainians, crossing Dnieper River, test Russian lines on southern front

The ex-governor then traveled south and east in a convoy that also delivered medical supplies to a stabilization point near the front line. At one point, he said, he came within 30 miles of the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, where the UN nuclear watchdog has warned of potential for disaster. (“That was lit up at night,” he said.)

He said he met three battalion commanders who detailed their battlefield needs (“They want more of everything … I did hear about the long range missiles. You hear that a lot in the field.”,

At one point, he said, his own convoy came under fire, with an explosive landing just 10 feet from the vehicle he was in.

In any other incident, “we noticed 4 HIMARS being introduced proper over our automotive,” he said, referring to an American precision-guided weapon system that Ukrainians are using on the front line.

“How many of us get to look what I noticed?” he asked. “We were attacked … it’s real life.”

The experience, he said, left him more convinced than ever that the United States must continue arming and supporting Ukraine.

“You’ve got all these countries running away from democracy,” he mentioned. “Here we now have were given a rustic that is embracing it.”

“We wish to win this,” McAuliffe added. “No query about it.”

One yr of Russia’s warfare in Ukraine

Portraits of Ukraine: Every Ukrainian’s life has changed since Russia launched its full-scale invasion one year ago — in ways both big and small. They have learned to survive and support each other below excessive casesin bomb shelters and hospitals, destroyed condo complexes and ruined marketplaces. Scroll via portraits of Ukrainians reflecting on a yr of loss, resilience and concern,

Battle of attrition: Over the past year, the war has morphed from a multi-front invasion that included Kyiv in the north to a conflict of attrition largely concentrated along an expanse of territory in the east and south. Follow the 600-mile front line between Ukrainian and Russian forces and take a look at where the fighting has been concentrated,

A year of living apart: Russia’s invasion, coupled with Ukraine’s martial law preventing fighting-age men from leaving the country, has forced agonizing decisions for millions of Ukrainian families about tips on how to stability protection, accountability and love, with once-entwined lives having develop into unrecognizable. Here’s what a educate station stuffed with goodbyes seemed like remaining yr.

Deepening global divides: President Biden has trumpeted the reinvigorated Western alliance forged during the war as a “international coalition,” but a closer look suggests the world is far from united on issues raised by the Ukraine war, Evidence abounds that the effort to isolate Putin has failed and that sanctions haven’t stopped Russiathanks to its oil and gas exports.

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