The Hill: America helped save the lives of Ukrainians like me in World War II. We need help again. BY YURIY SCHERBAK

In March 1944, exactly 80 years ago, I returned to my native city, Kyiv, which had just been liberated from three years of German occupation. My city lay in ruins, with most of its inhabitants having disappeared in the darkness of war, and the victims of the Babyn Yar massacre crying out for revenge.

I was only 10 at that time, but I already knew that I had survived thanks to American food aid. There was a lively trade of American products at school, including chewing gum, biscuits, stew, Camel cigarettes and small plastic models of combat aircraft.

I didn’t know then that in the summer of 1944 real U.S. warplanes — B-17s, B-24 flying fortresses and Mustang fighters — regularly flew to and from a U.S. Airforce base in Poltava in central-eastern Ukraine as part of Operation Frantic. After bombing German targets, more than 100 bombers and 70 U.S. fighters returned to Ukrainian soil to rest, refuel and repair their planes, and replenish their bomb stocks.

The brave Americans didn’t just relax or fall in love with Ukrainian girls: many of them lost their lives during German air raids. My people will always be grateful to those heroes.

I idolized America in 1944: It was my distant but close friend and savior. American films, jazz music, Studebaker cars and Willys jeeps, aspirin, clothing and food that saved us from starvation — all of this will remain in my heart forever.

Of course, I could not even imagine in my dreams that, in 1994, God and fate would bring me to Washington as the ambassador of an independent Ukraine and allow me to get to know and love this great country even deeper.

I have had the privilege of making the acquaintance of such prominent Americans as Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, George W. Bush, James Baker, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Bob Dole, Newt Gingrich, Dick Cheney, William Perry, Robert Gates, Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice and others. I learned much about statesmanship and democracy from them.

I am proud to have participated in the drafting of the first Strategic Partnership Agreement between Ukraine and the United States.

Today, when Ukraine is in the throes of Russia’s genocidal war that kills scores of men, women and children every day and destroys hospitals, schools, theaters, museums and housing, I am reminded of the consequences of Nazi aggression I witnessed in my native Kyiv in 1944. Once again, my eyes turn to America in gratitude and with hope.

Gratitude for the help that America has thus far given my country and hope for the continuation of this vital assistance.

No, I do not want or expect Americans to die in Ukraine today, as their grandfathers did back in 1944.

But I also don’t want Hitler’s disciple Vladimir Putin to destroy Ukraine, annihilate my people and then continue into Europe, destroying the Euro-Atlantic space of security, freedom and democracy, which the U.S. did so much to build and maintain following the Second World War.

Americans must understand that Putin hates America as much as he hates Ukraine. He despises America’s liberal democratic ideology, its spirit of individual freedom and its adherence to the basic values that underlay its foundation. The seeds of his hatred could germinate into a black harvest of nuclear attacks if Russia crushes Ukraine and then tests the NATO alliance and the U.S.

By helping Ukraine defend our land, our children and our freedom, Americans are defending their own land, their own children and their own freedom. And that’s because Ukraine’s sons and daughters are fighting for the principles that inspired the first American patriots to take up arms against the greatest empire of the time.

I am convinced that, along with the physical laws of the conservation of matter and energy, there exists an eternal law of the conservation of freedom. When America constituted itself as a nation based on the principle of freedom, it had to fight a long war of liberation against its colonial master. In this struggle victory was assured because of the aid of France. The Statue of Liberty, a gift from the people of France, serves as a symbol and reminder of this fight for freedom and liberty.

The United States of America, which was born declaring that all people are created equal and have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, is the world’s main guarantor of this law. In aiding Ukraine, America is fulfilling not only its duty, but also its destiny.

Yuriy Scherbak was ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of Ukraine to the United States (1994-1998), and ambassador of Ukraine to Israel, Canada and Mexico.