Ukrainians are watching with added interest as Donald Trump and challenger Joe Biden enter the final days of the U.S. presidential race. Ukraine has taken on huge strategic importance for the United States and its NATO allies since Ukraine’s ongoing 2014 war with Russia, while allegations of corruption linked to Ukraine continue to cloud the election campaign.
The alliance was underscored last month as U.S. military personnel took part in “Exercise Fiction Urchin” alongside Ukrainian special forces in the west of Ukraine. U.S. Air Force CV-22 Ospreys and other aircraft flew low over the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, drawing attention from residents below.
The joint exercises took place as the Kremlin staged military drills alongside Chinese and other forces as part of “Exercise Caucasus 2020” in the south of Russia.
The U.S. has significantly bolstered defense ties with Kyiv since Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and the incursion of Russian fighters into eastern Ukraine.
“With the ongoing conflict in the east, I think we can do what we are doing now, it is partnering with Ukraine, working together, showing them as well as NATO and the other Western allies that we are here, we stand beside Ukraine,” a major from U.S. Special Operations Forces taking part in the exercise told the Reuters news agency, asking that his name be withheld.
The increased U.S. military support for Ukraine resonates most with Ukrainians as they watch the U.S. election unfold from afar, says political analyst Alexey Arestovich.
“What’s important to them is that the U.S. does not stop its military support. That is the level of understanding,” Arestovich told VOA in a recent interview in Kyiv.
In the first months of Donald Trump’s presidency in 2017, Arestovich says there were concerns in Ukraine about the closeness of the relationship with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.
“However, it became clear that no matter how much Trump complimented Putin with words, in reality, the military activity (with the U.S.) has been increasing and the safety umbrella has been growing over eastern Europe and Ukraine together with the military support. So, the collective opinion (on Trump) has changed,” Arestovich said.
Allegations that Donald Trump threatened to withhold military aid to Ukraine unless Kyiv launched an investigation into his Democrat rival, were at the center of the president’s impeachment by the House of Representatives in 2019. He was later acquitted in the Senate.
Ukraine is back in the political spotlight amid renewed claims that as vice president in 2015, Joe Biden shielded his son Hunter Biden – who was then on the board of a Ukrainian energy firm - from an anti-corruption investigation by demanding the dismissal of Ukraine’s chief prosecutor.
The Bidens strongly deny the claim and accuse Republicans of carrying out a smear campaign. The FBI is investigating possible Russian disinformation.
Most Ukrainians are uncomfortable with their country’s involvement in the election campaign, says Arestovich.
“The collective wish of the ordinary Ukrainian is that we do not meddle in any American politics, and that we would be friends with the Americans militarily. The military safety umbrella - that’s the main interest. Protection from Russia.”
Ukrainians who spoke to VOA largely echoed that view.
“We have our own independent country and there is no sense in arguing or fighting with our neighbors and friends,” said Oleksandr Panasovich, a Kyiv resident.
Another resident, Olena, who did not give her family name, said she has many friends living in the U.S. “I think Biden is better for Ukrainians, but my American friends are closer to Trump,” she told VOA.
“Both of them supported us, so Ukraine shouldn’t lose out either way. I personally think that we have already experienced Trump, so we hope for the best with Biden,” said Kyiv resident Ivan.
Analysts say Ukrainians’ greatest hope is that U.S. military support continues after the election, no matter who wins on November 3.