03 Ukraine veterans affairs minister Arlington
CNN  — 

For Yulia Laputina, Ukraine’s Minister of Veterans Affairs, a visit to Arlington National Cemetery was a deeply moving experience.

“I really appreciated this incredible memorializing and respect for the people who defended your country,” Laputina, who is a veteran herself, told CNN Thursday.

Ukraine plans to draw inspiration from Arlington as the country works to create its own version of a memorial and military cemetery in its capital city of Kyiv, she said.

“It will be the memorial not only for those people who will be buried there from the battles of Russian-Ukrainian war, for the heroes, but also it will be the memorial for all of the defenders of our country when Ukraine was fighting for the independence in different historical periods,” she said.

On Thursday, the mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, announced that the city council had “started the procedure for establishing the National Military Memorial Cemetery,” and had allocated land for its creation. According to his post on Facebook, the cemetery is nearly 250 acres.

 Ukrainian Minister of Veterans Affairs Yulia Laputina visits Arlington National Cemetery in April 2023.

Ukraine’s creation of a military cemetery is just one initiative that the war-torn nation plans to undertake to honor and support its veterans – a population which will grow immensely due to Russia’s war in Ukraine. There are expected to be around four million veterans and family members by the time the war comes to an end, Laputina said.

About 80% of the half million veterans that were registered with the veterans affairs office when the most recent conflict began have gone back to the battlefield, she told CNN.

The minister came to Washington, DC, to discuss best practices and to urge specific funding from the US government to help support her office’s efforts.

The United States has given billions of dollars in direct budgetary support to Ukraine, but none of the money is specifically allocated for veterans affairs, Laputina said.

“It was my position that it should be a special budget for veterans policy. Now there are no special budget for veterans policy,” she said.

Laputina also used her meetings with officials at the Departments of State and Defense as well as members of Congress’s Ukraine Caucus to echo the request made repeatedly by others in the Zelensky government: that the US should provide Kyiv with fighter jets.

“We still need F-16s,” she said. “It’s a necessity.”

Spreading Ukraine’s message outside Washington

Members of Congress encouraged Laputina to visit the US beyond Washington in order to rally support for Ukrainian veterans.

Lawmakers made the case that personal connections to Americans across the country could “increase the level of support of practical support” for Ukraine, Laputina said.

“Only in personal communication you can explain the real needs and you can answer the questions which US citizens have,” she said.

While the majority of Americans are in favor of the ongoing US government support for Ukraine, in recent months that level of support has begun to soften.

But right now Laputina is not sure when she will be able to find the time to come back to the US with so much going on at home. Her office has a number of initiatives in the works, including the rebuilding of a psychological rehabilitation center that was destroyed by Russian forces.

Yulia Laputina, Minister of Veterans Affairs of Ukraine at the International Rehabilitation Forum in Lviv, Ukraine, on April 12.

“It was the first day of occupation and Russia attacked our center,” she said, saying that the Russians knew they were targeting a social center.

They also aim to create a mentorship program for service members returning from the front lines to help them readjust to civilian life.

Such a readjustment is particularly challenging in Ukraine, where the soldiers may return to find their homes and businesses destroyed. Their families also may have had to relocate elsewhere to escape the war.

Laputina said she can understand the frustrations that service members face when returning from the battlefield, as she fought in 2014.

“On my trip home, I stopped at the petrol station … I didn’t understand why people are laughing, why they’re sitting, drinking coffee in the station. And when I returned home to Kyiv if it was a full scale of life, with the restaurants, with the music and I was very angry. I was furious about that,” she recounted.