EXCLUSIVE — Former New York Gov. George Pataki embarked on his fourth humanitarian aid trip to Ukraine this week, telling the Washington Examiner, “We’re fighting the war for everyone who believes in freedom and democracy,” referring to the country’s conflict with Russia.
Pataki, who says he is “doing all I can do to help Ukraine” in his Twitter biography, has made three prior trips to the embattled country. Notably, he is the last Republican to govern over the state of New York, doing so between 1995 and 2006. He has since launched the Gov. George Pataki Leadership Center, through which much of his work in Ukraine is made possible. The website notes that its mission is “to strive in priming a constructive agenda for everyone,” adding, “As of now we are providing temporary homes for the people of Ukraine.”
While in Ukraine, he explained, “This is simply a fight between freedom and democracy or autocracy and thuggery.”
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Despite approaching the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of the country, Pataki said that the “Ukrainian people are still totally unified in understanding they have to win the war.” His first trip took place about two weeks after the invasion.
“This is our fight, and we have to stand with Ukraine and help them to win this war because the world is looking,” he emphasized. Pataki warned that nations such as China and Iran are watching this conflict play out. “Is America going to do what we did in Afghanistan, which is help and, finally, at the end, just turn the other way?”
“We can’t do that this time,” the former governor said. “We have to let the world know that when a free country that is friendly to America is attacked by an enemy of America, which [Russian President Vladimir Putin’s] Russia is, we will stand with them regardless of the difficulty of the fight.”
The Republican also responded to credible concerns from Americans about fronting large amounts of money in aid to Ukraine. “There has to be accountability. It can’t be just a blank check,” he ceded, referring to Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) recent remarks about the future of Ukraine aid.
“We have not seen one nickel of U.S. humanitarian aid anywhere in Ukraine,” he explained. “We just don’t see that any of those billions of appropriations that Congress may have gotten to Ukraine. So, I think it’s very appropriate to do a very detailed investigation and accounting to make sure that the funds that actually [happened to be appropriated] are actually getting where they’re supposed to be going.”
Asked about a recent missile strike that unintentionally killed two people in NATO-member Poland, he said it is evidence that the war “has enormous consequences to the entire West, and as much as the effort is to limit it to Ukraine, there are going to be these impacts on the surrounding countries.”
Pataki further claimed that the economic implications of the war globally have been detrimental as well.
On his trips to the country, he is focused on providing basic necessities to citizens struggling in Ukraine. However, he also wants to bring some joy into the lives of Ukrainians. In an effort to do this, Pataki helped deliver hundreds of footballs to displaced children and orphans in Ukraine on Friday. The footballs were donated by the NFL as well as college- and high school-level teams in the U.S.
“It’s hard to say you had a good time in a country that’s at war, but for one of the few times in our trips, we actually did,” he said of the event.
According to the former governor, there is a decent-sized American football league in the country.
He described one of the football players whose brother — also a football player — “had been killed just a month ago in Kherson.”
Pataki said, “He had tears in his eyes when this was happening because his brother loved American football so much, and he was just thinking how much his brother would have loved to have been there, and it was just emotional in that sense.” According to him, there have been about six athletes in the league who have died in the war. The governor was able to visit the graves of the fallen players.
His current trip to the country is being spent delivering industrial heaters to hospitals and shelters in some of the hardest-hit areas of Ukraine. He said that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky plans to place some of them in “resiliency centers” for people without power.
To the affected Ukrainians, these heaters mean the world, he said. Winter is beginning in Ukraine, making heat all the more crucial.
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Asked about ever returning to elected office, the last Republican governor of New York said he’s “smart enough never to say never.”
“But what I really want to do is find people who I like and can support and then win elections and lead the country or the state in the right direction,” he added.