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Ukrainian soldiers prepare to head to the frontline in a Bradley fighting vehicle near Ocheretyne, northwest of Avdiivka, Ukraine, on Oct. 24.NICOLE TUNG/The New York Times News Service

Timothy Garton Ash is an author, most recently of Homelands: A Personal History of Europe.

Vasyl, a burly, tattooed infantry commander who lost a leg to a Russian mine on the eastern front, sits swinging his remaining leg on the edge of the treatment table in the Unbroken rehabilitation clinic in Lviv, Ukraine. He’s been inside the Russian trenches 50 times, he tells me. I ask him what Ukraine needs for victory. Answer: “Motivated people.” After we shake hands and I wish him luck, he suddenly jumps off the table and starts skipping at amazing speed, his blue skipping rope whizzing around under his foot, while he looks at me with a broad grin as if to say: “Here’s your answer.”

Makysm, a sturdy Marine and professional sniper who lost a foot to a hidden Russian mine, is less exuberant. The minefields are terrible and the Russians well-dug into their defensive positions. And, he adds, “The Russians have more men.”

According to American estimates, Ukrainian fatalities in the first one and a half years of this full-scale war exceed the entire American losses in two decades of involvement in Vietnam. I visited the military cemetery in Lviv to lay flowers on the grave of a volunteer soldier called Yevhen Hulevych, whom I met last December, shortly before he was killed near Bakhmut. I was shocked to see that the forest of fresh graves had almost doubled in size since I was last there. There were now 520 fallen from this one city, including three women, all medics. But Ukraine is running low on people ready and able to fight.

Before I travelled to Lviv in early October, I spent two months in the United States, where opinion polls showed a worrying decline in support for continued funding of Ukraine. The issue is now fatefully entangled with hyperpolarized U.S. politics.

I was told it’s unlikely that Ukraine will get its invitation to join NATO at the 75th anniversary summit next July, because that might cost Joe Biden – or another Democrat – votes in next November’s election. And a second Trump presidency would be a disaster for Ukraine.

All this was before Hamas’s invasion of Israel began another terrible war, which will absorb most of Washington’s diplomatic and political time, and may take some of the funding and equipment that might otherwise have gone to Ukraine. In signalling his unconditional support for Israel in its battle against Hamas, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is obviously well aware of that danger.

What’s the right conclusion from these two worrying trends – one on the Russo-Ukrainian battlefront and the other in distant Washington? I think it’s clear: Europe must do more. That’s also how we persuade the U.S. to stay the course.

Great Britain has led in this respect, but its own stocks of arms and ammunition are running low. Germany has become Ukraine’s second-largest supporter, but Chancellor Olaf Scholz is still given to nervous hesitation. Of course, the escalation risks always have to be weighed carefully. But this is not how you help a country win a war.

Above all, though, Europe needs to lead on economic, social and political support for Ukraine. In moments like this, people always reach for the metaphor of a Marshall Plan, but by its very name, that suggests the U.S. will play a leading role. The American public is just not ready for that any more. Nor do I see why Europe should expect the U.S. to do the lion’s share, nearly 80 years after the end of the Second World War. Ukraine is in Europe, after all, and Europe has a very large economy of its own. If we succeed in its reconstruction, Europe will be the biggest beneficiary.

What might be called the three Rs – reconstruction, reform and reaching for EU membership – have to be conceived of and implemented together. Reconstruction can’t wait until the end of the war. People need homes, schools and hospitals now. Nor can reform of the Ukrainian state. On that, there are some concerning signs, such as an apparent reversal of the decentralization which was an important element of the country’s post-2014 renewal. The EU needs to start an incremental process which at each stage creates a positive incentive: you reconstruct, you reform, you gain more access.

I returned home persuaded that this is what we in Europe must do. The alternative is that the West will eventually settle for a “peace” that involves Ukraine effectively losing a large chunk of its territory. This would not be peace, but a semi-frozen conflict. Just a pause before another round of war. In the meantime, however, it would enable Vladimir Putin to declare victory at home; send precisely the wrong message to Xi Jinping over Taiwan; and feel like a terrible defeat to every Ukrainian. The memory of soldiers like Yevhen, who have paid the ultimate price, and the sacrifices of those like Vasyl and Makysm, demand better.

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