M1A1 tank
Ukraine is asking for more military equipment from Australia, such as M1A1 tanks. Image by HANDOUT/Australian Department of Defence
  • unrest, conflicts and war

Defence holding fire on more aid for Ukraine

Tess Ikonomou February 28, 2024

Defence is acting as a “handbrake” on Australia’s supply of aid to Ukraine, with calls for military support to be included in the next federal budget. 

Marking two years since Russia’s invasion, Ukraine’s top diplomat in Australia Vasyl Myroshnychenko issued a plea for the nation to ramp up support to help put an end to the war. 

“We cannot fight empty handed … we do not want year after year of Russia versus Ukraine meat grinder,” he told the National Press Club on Wednesday.

Speaking alongside the ambassador, co-chair of the Australian Federation of Ukrainian Organisations Kateryna Argyrou urged the Defence department to allow the besieged nation to make its own risk decisions about military equipment. 

Australian Federation of Ukrainian Organisations' Kateryna Argyrou
 Kateryna Argyrou says Ukraine should be able to make its own risk assessments about equipment. Image by Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS 

“From my last two years of work advocating for more military aid for Ukraine, it is evident that the biggest hand brake is hesitancy in the Department of Defence,” she said.

“Please let Ukraine make that risk assessment, they’re the ones on the frontline.

“When we ask for decommissioned equipment or anything else, it is incredibly disappointing when we just get ‘no’ and for different reasons.”

Ms Argyrou noted money for Ukraine came out of the defence budget, which she said led to a reluctance to provide more aid.

“That’s why as a community, we’re asking and hoping that the budget this year will include a line item for military support for Ukraine,” she said.

Describing the government’s decision to dismantle and bury the MRH-90 Taipan helicopters rather than donate them as a “very sad and unfortunate story”, Ms Argyrou said there was a “clear” need for proactive thinking about how Australia could support Ukraine.

The government retired the troubled fleet early after a crash during a military exercise in Queensland in 2023.

Labor said the disposal of the choppers was the most cost effective option for Australian taxpayers.

Ms Argyrou said the community was urging the government to consider donating capabilities that were being retired or were in surplus, including M1A1 Abrams tanks and Tiger choppers.

Opposition foreign spokesman Simon Birmingham said the government’s support for Ukraine had slipped over the past two years, with opportunities missed.

“What we need to see is the government thinking about everything that can be done, rather than contemplating only the bare minimum,” he said.

Mr Myroshnychenko said support needed to be more consistent.

“We have drip-fed and ad hoc one-off support contributions sufficient to hang on and to keep going,” he said.

Ukraine’s Ambassador to Australia Vasyl Myroshnychenko
 Ukraine’s ambassador Vasyl Myroshnychenko (centre) says his country needs “more of everything”. Image by Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS 

“The current model sees international assistance arriving in ad hoc packets that are barely enough, and only just in time.

“We need more; more of everything.”

He urged the international community to allow Ukraine to demonstrate what it was capable of, when it was given the support it needed.

“That is my message to you, to the Five Eyes nations, to NATO members, and to the EU: let us show you that we can do more if you provide us with more,” the ambassador said.

Mr Myroshnychenko pointed to the generosity of Australian mining magnate Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest and said there was a role for the private sector industry, business and philanthropy to help Ukraine in its efforts.

The Forrest family’s Minderoo Foundation has donated $5 million to help authorities remove land mines in the northwest and south of the country, benefiting thousands of Ukrainians.

Australia could lend its hand to “thought leadership” for “innovative, creative, effective ways to generate a fast, slick military and humanitarian supply chain into Ukraine, Mr Myroshnychenko said

“Ukraine’s front-line troops and Ukraine’s civilians clearly know exactly what Australia has given them,” the ambassador said.

“They are deeply grateful and will never forget Australia.”