Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy stood before an audience n the rotunda at the U.S. National Archives Thursday evening as part of his whirlwind day-long effort to report on progress against Russian forces and to seek ongoing financial support from the United States.
But here, where history is preserved to draw on the lessons of the past, the president of Ukraine and his wife Olena came to honor those who have stood by Ukraine and to echo the words of one of America’s greatest leaders.
He said among the items he saw Thursday was a telegram from Abraham Lincoln to General Ulysses S. Grant, dated Aug. 17, 1864, “an inspiring document, absolutely,” Zelenskyy said. He then quoted the short telegram that brought both encouragement in adversity to General Grant, and clear resolve from the United States’ 16th president:
“Hold on with a bull-dog grip, and chew and choke, as much as possible,” Zelenskyy read, quoting the words in English with a thick Ukrainian accent now familiar the world over.
“President Lincoln’s words reflect the courage and faith that helped America. Such words reflect exactly how Ukrainians fight,” he said.
There, listening in the National Archives, among the 350 invited guests, was Jonathan Freedman, president and CEO of World Trade Center Utah and honorary consul of Ukraine in Utah, a position he has held since 2008. He is tasked with supporting Utah’s Ukrainian community and is a liaison and facilitator between Utah and Ukraine’s business leaders and diplomats.
“Jonathan Freedman,” came the announcement from Zelenskyy, following his rousing speech at a lectern shared with his wife. Freedman then joined others alongside Ukraine’s president and the first lady of Ukraine to receive the Order of Merit, III Degree, The recognition from the government of Ukraine is “given to individuals for outstanding achievements in economics, science, culture, military or political spheres of activity.”
The Order of Merit, its medal, ribbons and certificates, carry with it the title Chevalier of the Order of Merit. Similar honors were given to supporters in the medical field as well as the arts Thursday in Washington, D.C. for the hours of service on behalf of the people of Ukraine.
“I was very honored and very humbled to receive this award. It is very generous of the president,” Freedman said following the ceremony, in a brief phone interview with the Deseret News. “I share this with Utahns from all around the state who really have made a difference for Ukrainians from here and abroad.”
Olena Zelenskyy called the fight for freedom a “spiritual battle” shared by all, bringing those of different beliefs and persuasions together.
“Sincere gratitude to everyone who fights together with us in spiritual dimension and dimension of values,” she said, speaking in English as her husband did. Freedman shared that sentiment in an evening draped in expressions of gratitude.
“Everyone wants to do what they possibly can to help, especially when there is such an assault on innocence,” Freedman said.
The speech and honors in the National Archives capped a day of meetings for Zelenskyy, with President Biden, administration leaders, and members of Congress as Ukraine’s leader championed the effort of his country to drive the Russian military from Ukraine.
The Biden administration supports an additional $24 billion (and some say much more) for Ukraine. But that has drawn mixed reaction from lawmakers in Washington and prompted a letter from six senators, including Utah Sen. Mike Lee and Sen. J.D Vance, as well as 23 House members to the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. They seek more accountability before agreeing to additional funding.
“Are the Ukrainians any closer to victory than they were 6 months ago? What is our strategy, and what is the president’s exit plan? What does the administration define as victory in Ukraine?“ the letter asks.
For his part, Zelenskyy made his case behind closed doors with the president and with Congress. His public remarks at the National Archives, broadcast by PBS throughout the country, had nothing but praise and thanks for the efforts of the United States and for the relationship between the two countries that he said has never been closer.
Freedman has been assisting Ukraine and its citizens long before war broke out with Russia. He was also part of a trade delegation from Utah to Ukraine earlier this year, meeting with business and government leaders in search of opportunities to strengthen Ukrainians now and in post-war Ukraine when hostilities cease.
Before presenting Freedman and others to those gathered, President Zelenskyy hailed their efforts. “Here today are the leaders of the Ukrainian community in America, activists, volunteers, benefactors.“
Olena Zelenskyy summed up the evening by referencing her first visit to Congress more than a year ago, when her husband remained in Ukraine to engage the battle.
She came seeking help with a simple message: “The trouble of some is the trouble of all.”