Durbin Reflects On Russia’s War On Ukraine Ahead Of The One-Year Anniversary

In a speech on the Senate floor, Durbin highlights Chicago Chef and Humanitarian Tony Priolo who traveled to Ukraine to help deliver meals

WASHINGTON  U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Co-Chair of the Senate Ukraine Caucus, spoke on the Senate floor ahead of the one-year anniversary of Russia’s full scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022. 

Durbin began his speech by highlighting Chicago Chef Tony Priolo, who leapt into action to help the Ukrainian people, and who previously employed a young Ukrainian woman.  Chef Priolo contacted the Illinois Restaurant Association and 30 chef friends, and less than three weeks later, chefs representing 70 restaurants from around Chicago served meals to 2,000 people at their “Chicago Chefs Cook for Ukraine” event at the Navy Pier.  The event raised $650,000 and they raised another $200,000 in less than a week.  They donated the funds to World Central Kitchen, the non-profit organization founded by chef and humanitarian Jose Andres.

“Through his work with World Central Kitchen, which he founded in 2010, Jose Andres also has earned a reputation as the world’s leading ‘first responder for food.’  Wherever disaster strikes, it seems that World Central Kitchen is there to feed hungry and displaced people, usually within 24 hours.  For Chef Tony Priolo in Chicago, it wasn’t enough, though, simply to raise money for World Central Kitchen.  After the success of Chicago Cooks for Ukraine, he tracked down his former employee on Instagram and asked:  ‘Are you OK?’ She replied: ‘Not really.  My mom and dog and I are hiding in the subway.’ So Tony Priolo decided he had to go to Ukraine himself and help,” said Durbin. 

Tony and two other star chefs from Chicago, Giuseppe Tentori and Paul Kahan joined him.  The chefs volunteered for a week last April and fed hot meals to as many as 30,000 people a day at a Polish refugee camp six miles from the Ukrainian border.  For his humanitarian work to aid Ukrainians displaced by war and his many other charitable works, Chef Priolo was recently honored by Chicago magazine as a “Chicagoan of the Year.”  

When the Ukrainian war began, Durbin and Senator Chris Coons were in Vilnius, Lithuania.  Since then, Durbin has traveled back to Vilnius, Lithuania, where he received the Aleksandras Stulginskis Star Award, and following that, he attended the NATO summit in Madrid, Spain, where he helped lead bipartisan efforts to support the transatlantic alliance and supported Finland and Sweden seek accession into NATO.  

Durbin continued, “We were there to express support for that small NATO member on the front lines of democracy, who has a long memory of Russian tyranny.  And then, while we sat, the unthinkable in modern Europe, news broke that Russian dictator Vladimir Putin had launched a massive military invasion of Ukraine.  It was an ill-fated throwback to the era when aggressor nations tried to seize their neighbor’s territory by force—all in blind pursuit of some warped Soviet nostalgia trip.  Putin was willing to sacrifice thousands of Ukrainian and Russian lives, the reputation of his country, and the international order established after the horrors of World War II.  Perhaps having listened to too many years of his own country’s brainwashing propaganda, Putin also thought Ukraine would fall in a matter of days or weeks.  He thought the transatlantic alliance and community of democracies had atrophied and wouldn’t respond.  Well he was wrong on every single front.  The Ukrainian people repelled Putin's invasion. They heroically clawed back seized territory. They withstood brutal attacks on civilians and critical infrastructure, war crimes by any standard.”

Durbin, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, continued his speech by condemning the atrocities committed by Russians.  Durbin’s bipartisan, bicameral Justice for Victims of War Crimes Act – which updates the current war crimes statute to enable prosecution of war criminals in the United States regardless of the nationality of the perpetrator or victim – was recently signed into law by President Biden.  The bill also extends the statute of limitations for certain war crimes.  Durbin frequently hosts members of the Ukrainian Parliament, and most recently hosted Ukrainian Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin to receive an update on reports of Russian war crimes and crimes against humanity.  Congress also provided $45 billion in aid to Ukraine in Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23) appropriations package. 

“But we should not lose sight of crimes committed by Putin in the war—crimes for which he and his enablers must and will be held accountable.  Entire villages have been destroyed.  From Bucha to Izium to Kherson there is evidence of horrific mass killing, torture, and sexual violence against civilians… Just like the Nuremburg trials after World War II, and more recently the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the world will hold Putin and Russians accountable for unleashing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine.  As President Biden said at his State of the Union address the fight against tyranny in Ukraine is ‘a test for the ages, a test for America, and a test for the world.’ I agree.  We must continue to stand loyally by Ukraine,” Durbin stated.

Durbin concluded his speech by reflecting on a 2014 trip to Ukraine with the late Senator John McCain (R-AZ).

“All around us were makeshift shrines dedicated to the victims killed during peaceful protests for a more democratic future.  It was evident then, and reflective of what we have seen during the last year in Ukraine—the unshakeable determination of the Ukrainian people to be free.  To be able to democratically choose their own future just as we do in the United States.  Senator McCain understood it and I stood by his side.  It is long overdue that President Putin does as well.  Until then, we will stand together with the Ukrainian people in that journey toward democracy,” Durbin concluded.  

Video of Durbin’s floor speech is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s floor speech is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s floor speech is available here for TV Stations.