For U.S. Rep. Victoria Spartz, the poised Russian invasion of her native Ukraine is personal.
The Soviet Union collectivized her grandfather’s farm. “They came and took his land, they came and took his house,” Spartz told Howey Politics Indiana last week, just days after she returned from a congressional delegation to Brussels and Kyiv.
“The Bolsheviks took his land. He never wanted to join the Communist Party. He worked for a while on the collective farm. They tried to force him and he never got over that. They sent him to Siberia for some time. A lot of Ukrainians died.”
Born Victoria Kulheyko in Nosivka, Chernihiv Oblast, she immigrated to the U.S. in 2000 after marrying her husband, Jason Spartz. While she had returned to Ukraine to visit elderly relatives since then, she said she was surprised at the changes she saw in Ukraine earlier this month.
“I’ll be honest with you, I was shocked at how the Ukrainian people have changed,” Spartz said. “I grew up near the Ukraine/Belorussian border, in the region just north of Kyiv. People were pretty friendly with Russia. People thought of the old Soviet times and wanted to go back. There was talk of democracy, but people deliberated and debated. I was shocked how people changed and became very pro-American.”
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, travel restrictions have liberalized. “I think a lot of them traveled around Europe for jobs,” Spartz said. “They have been at war for seven years now and 60,000 of them have died. A lot of them have been born after the Soviet Union. They were born in Ukraine, and now you have this Russian aggression, trying to take your territory and a lot of young people are dying. There is a large percentage of the population that do not want to be suppressed. That could be a big problem for Putin.”
Asked if war was inevitable, Spartz said, “Well, nothing is inevitable. President Putin keeps putting more and more troops at the border so he is in a position where he can invade. I do hope, for the good of his country too, he will reconsider his position because he is taking a significant risk. Ukraine now is not the Ukraine of 30 years ago. It is a very different country.
“The current situation in Europe is really a threat not only to Ukraine, but the whole security architecture of the whole … continent,” she said. “This is the biggest aggression, if it happens, since World War II. It is extremely concerning. Our fathers and grandfathers paid a significant price to bring peace 77 years ago on the continent.”
Military experts believe a full-throttled Russian invasion could conquer Kyiv in days and much of the third biggest geographical county in Europe within weeks or months. But then there is the specter of an insurgency. Asked if such an insurgency would occur, she said, “No doubt.”
The first-term Republican from Noblesville continued, “They have had war for seven years. I just don’t think they’re going to give up. There will be a real high loss for them. They are determined to be free. They are building their own armies right now. Hitler thought he would blitzkrieg and it didn’t work out very well for him. He was able to hold it for some time, but it is hard to hold a country that size with so many people in a country who doesn’t want to be with you. It will be difficult to do for any aggressor.
Her message to President Biden?
“President Biden needs to get his act together and start governing his own country well, building the GDP and protecting our own borders,” she said. “That would be the guarantor to stability around the world. Unfortunately a lot of his missteps in foreign and domestic policies are creating a lot of problems around the world. We had a very bad Afghanistan withdrawal. Weaknesses create a lot of problems. People see an opportunity to be an aggressor. They are taking advantage of his weaknesses.”
And how should Hoosiers weigh a potential war in Europe?
“It’s a serious situation,” Spartz said. “I want Americans to know regardless, we need to band together for the good of this country so we’re going to defend and protect our country and other countries.”
“In times of crisis it is time for us to be united, and maybe as united people to push back,” she said. “We have too much politics. A strong America is the best thing for the world.”