He was in Kyiv on Monday night when he learned of U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal’s now walked-back controversial letter urging President Joe Biden to negotiate directly with Russia to bring an end to the war in Ukraine.
“It was shocking to me. I couldn’t believe when I read that letter. Honestly, I never expected something like that from Democrats, especially from Jayapal,” said Oleg Pynda, executive director of the Ukrainian Community Center of Washington, based in Seattle.
“Given the destruction created by this war for Ukraine and the world, as well as the risk of catastrophic escalation, we also believe it is in the interests of Ukraine, the United States, and the world to avoid a prolonged conflict,” the letter, signed by 30 Democratic House liberals, reads in part. “For this reason, we urge you to pair the military and economic support the United States has provided to Ukraine with a proactive diplomatic push, redoubling efforts to seek a realistic framework for a ceasefire.”
Jayapal represents the 7th District, which includes most of Seattle and the surrounding area from Shoreline to Burien. Washington state is a prime destination for Ukrainians, with roughly 7,500 having arrived his year by midsummer, the state estimates.
Only days ago, Oleg and his son, Artur Pynda, flew from Seattle to Warsaw, and then took a train to Ukraine’s capital, with suitcases loaded with drones that he described as “sophisticated and not easy to buy.” Also with them: 56 iPads, first-aid kits and other supplies for soldiers on the front line against the Russian invasion.
He also said he had $60,000 in donated funds on a credit card to buy even more supplies.
Pynda said that in March he met with Jayapal, “and she was very supportive.” A photo shows them smiling together.
And now there is the letter.
“You never negotiate with terrorists,” he said.
In September, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned that he would not negotiate with Russia as long as President Vladimir Putin is in power.
The letter, released days before the November midterms, “was an unforced error,” said Andrew Villeneuve, founder of the Redmond-based Northwest Progressive Institute. Jayapal, first elected in 2016, is in her third term and doesn’t face a serious challenge in the upcoming election.
On Tuesday, a day after The Washington Post reported that Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, released the letter, a number of the Democrats said they signed it in June — when it was drafted — but wouldn’t sign it now.
“Timing in diplomacy is everything,” Rep. Sara Jacobs, D-Calif., who signed the letter, tweeted Tuesday. “I signed this letter on June 30, but a lot has changed since then. I wouldn’t sign it today. We have to continue supporting Ukraine economically and militarily to give them the leverage they need to end this war.”
Among the 705 replies to the tweet was one from RoadTrippingCat: “Leave it to Dems/Progressives to go into circular firing squad formation 2 weeks before what’s possibly the most important election in the history of our democracy. Is this self-sabotage unavoidably instinctual?”
On Tuesday, Jayapal issued a statement saying she was withdrawing the letter.
Jayapal said the letter “unfortunately was released by staff without vetting.”
When asked how such a letter slipped by, Jayapal’s office responded in an email that “We are not commenting on internal processes.”
Her office also said that Jayapal was “in the process of reaching out to the Ukrainian community” and that she “stands unequivocally with Ukraine and remains steadfast in her commitment to defending Ukraine’s sovereignty and defending against Putin’s unlawful invasion.”
A story Tuesday in Politico said, “A source familiar with the situation told POLITICO that Jayapal personally approved the letter’s release on Monday.”
In her statement, Jayapal said, “Because of the timing, our message is being conflated by some as being equivalent to the recent statement by Republican Leader [Kevin] McCarthy threatening an end to aid to Ukraine if Republicans take over . . . Nothing could be further from the truth. Every war ends with diplomacy, and this one will too after Ukrainian victory.”
Said Villeneuve about the letter, “It was a bad idea four months ago, and it’s a bad idea now.”
Speaking about Jayapal, he said, “When you aspire for leadership, anything can matter. You’re assessed on your judgment in critical times.”
Another Ukrainian American, Irene Danysh, spoke via Facebook from Lviv, near the Polish border. She traveled from Burien to an educational nonprofit in Ukraine.
On July 29, she wrote a Seattle Times op-ed titled, “As a Ukrainian American, I have seen firsthand why Putin must be stopped.”
She wrote, “But I wonder if Americans realize what it will cost the U.S. if Putin takes control of Ukraine. If Putin succeeds in taking Ukraine by force, do we really think he will stop there?”
In the call from Lviv, Danysh said, “I really respect Pramila Jayapal. She’s my congressperson. It’s tempting for people who love peace to think it all could be possible.”
But, added Danysh, “There is no way in the world that Putin would negotiate. No way he’d come to the table if he thinks he can win. He’d just be laughing if we’d go for that idea of trying to negotiate.”
Longtime Seattle political consultant Ron Dotzauer said of the letter, “What were they thinking? A few days before the general election there is this whole segment of Republicans who for years have been saying that Democrats are soft on defense. This plays right into that angle.”
Of Jayapal withdrawing the letter, he said: “Somebody must have squeezed her.”
Jayapal got 85% of the vote in the Aug. 2 primary.
The Ukraine letter fiasco, said Dotzauer, “Is not going to damage her in terms of her constituency.”
As for Jayapal’s bigger political aspirations, he said, “It has the potential for sort of marginalizing her. It’s not the leadership you want right now.”
In Ukraine, delivering drones and iPads, Oleg Pynda said, “I think quite a few people called her. I would have called if I was in Seattle.”
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