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3 leaders from Ukraine visit Arizona with a message: War effort supports your economy

Funding for Ukraine will dry up at the end of the year unless Congress approves $61 billion the Biden administration is asking for in their fight against Russia. This week, an emergency spending bill to provide that security assistance was blocked in the Senate as Republicans demanded tougher border enforcement.

The sense of urgency is reverberating all the way here to Arizona, where three members of the Ukrainian Parliament visited the state this month to impress upon the state’s leaders and residents to support their war effort.

They say Arizona has a lot to gain from helping Ukraine.

The three traveled more than 6,000 miles to Phoenix to get their message across. On their four-day trip, they spoke to and visited with members of the state Legislature, U.S Sen. Mark Kelly plus Arizona State University students and faculty.

Maria Mezenteva is a member of parliament from Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city.

“We’ve taken another strategy here, and this trip is authorized by President Zelenskyy and his office. We are spread around different states," she said.

Mezentseva says Arizona is not just any state on their journey.

“The argument which comes specifically in Arizona to support our case is the military industry and weapons production, which creates jobs, which increases tax payments, and boosts the economy.”

And a small number of Ukrainian pilots from her hometown have been training to fly F-16’s at Morris Air National Guard Base in Tucson.

“The university that these great Ukrainian pilots are graduating from is located in my constituency in the city of Kharkiv, just 40 kilometers from the Russia border. And you know, we understand the rules of war and the rules of conducting successful operations and that’s aviation," Mezentseva said.

Oleksandr Kovalchuk is a parliament member from Zviahel, about a three-hour drive west from the capital of Kiev.

He has a special connection here and says the state will benefit from passing legislation to support Ukraine.

“I used to live in Arizona back in (the) 2000’s, you know, for five years. I’ve spent a lot of time here in Arizona. And again, I want to understand that this bill will provide a lot of jobs and an economic increase for Arizona because Arizona will get much out of it," he said.

Kovalchuk says the funding will aid defense contractors based in the state, including a top secret project that’s in the works.

“Arizonans will be able to produce a new type of modern weapon that will be used in Ukraine and after all, they’ll be selling that equipment, needed equipment to other countries as well," he said.

According to a report, Pennsylvania, Arizona and Texas are the three states that benefited the most from the aid that has already been sent to Ukraine. Arizona is just behind Pennsylvania, having received almost $2.2 billion from the production of munitions and other procurements.

That’s despite the fact that three out of six from the state’s GOP delegation to the U.S. House voted against it.

Kovalchuk believes it should be a slam dunk.

“America will not be sending funds to Ukraine as everyone thinks. You know, this money will be spent here in the United States of America, making more military and defense equipment," he said.

Some members of Congress have also tied additional funding to policy changes at the border in order to stem the flow of migrants.

Kovalchuk says the timing of the most recent surge may not be a coincidence.

“There is a parallel between our experience when a lot of immigrants at the same time appeared at the Belarusian border. By the way, the way they were getting there, they were getting there by planes that appeared out of nowhere. That [is] all [a] big conspiracy that Russia is capable of,” Kovalchuck said.

Olena Khomenko is the third member of the delegation to visit the state. She’s from Kiev and came prepared with a parable related to Arizona’s capital, straight out of mythology.

“The name of this city is also symbolic for us. Phoenix is the mythological, immortal bird that is shedded by the sun, obtains new life by rising from the ashes of its predecessor," Khomenko said.

"Our quest for liberty is immortal and we will rise from ashes to burn our enemies. And the American people could be proud that they contributed to that resurrection. Our birds, our pilots, who are trained in Tucson, will fly soon to liberate our homes and we are grateful for America.”

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Phil Latzman is an award-winning digital journalist and broadcast professional with over 25 years of experience covering news and sports on a multitude of platforms.