It's Afghanistan All Over Again: Americans Abandoned as Biden Administration Ends Diplomatic Presence in Kyiv


Those who don’t learn from history are said to be condemned to repeat it. In Ukraine, President Joe Biden’s administration has condemned others to repeat it, instead.

Now, it’s been reported that roughly five Americans in pre-trial detention in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv have been largely abandoned by the United States, given the lack of diplomatic presence in the city.

Now, from afar, the State Department is requesting the individuals, including one facing charges that are potentially politically motivated, be released from detention as worries mount about what might happen to them if guards stop reporting to work or if Russia takes over the capital city.

The situation mimics that of Afghanistan — if on a smaller scale — where hundreds of Americans were abandoned by the Biden administration during the chaotic withdrawal from the country last August.

On Saturday, Axios reported Foggy Bottom’s move to ask Ukraine to release the five Americans in pre-trial detention in Kyiv, all of whom have been charged but not tried or convicted.

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According to Axios’ Zachary Besu, Washington was “fearing for their safety as Russian forces continue their assault on the capital.”

“With conditions growing more desperate by the day, any way out for these Americans is highly uncertain. Two former Marines the U.S. has said are wrongfully detained in Russia may also face additional danger as tensions with Moscow spiral,” Besu added.

The request was made in a diplomatic note from the State Department to the government of Ukraine on Wednesday, according to the report.

However, it’s going to be difficult for American diplomats to check on the detainees still left in Kyiv, since American diplomats have been relocated out of Kyiv. In February, as CBS reported, the Biden administration evacuated the U.S. diplomatic presence, moving to the western Ukrainian city of Lviv.

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While it’s unclear from the Axios report what work was done before the invasion or while the U.S. Embassy was still in Kyiv, that would have been the time to do it. No such luck.

Among those still being held in pre-trial detention is North Dakota businessman Kurt Groszhans, who, according to The Associated Press, stands accused of conspiring to kill Roman Leshchenko, his former business partner and the current Ukrainian minister of agriculture.

However, Groszhans’ family says the charges stem not from an assassination plot but the fact he accused Leshchenko of corruption publicly. This isn’t exactly an implausible theory; while we’re all putting Ukrainian flags on our Facebook and Twitter profiles, let’s not forget the political infrastructure in Ukraine is astoundingly crooked for a democratic nation.

Since January, when worries were ratcheting up that Russia would invade Ukraine, Groszhans’ family has been asking the State Department to get him released, Axios reported. Now, they’re warning he could be left behind, deprived of food and heat if prison guards don’t show up to work or the Russians take over.

“Our concern is that the State Department is not advocating for his release because it would be inferring that Ukraine is engaged in corrupt activities right at a time when State is focused on being as supportive as possible of Ukraine against the Russians,” Groszhans’ sister said in a statement, according to Axios.

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“We support the Ukrainian people against Russia as well, but our brother is a sitting duck in that prison and we need him to be released so at least he can try to survive on his own.”

Both of North Dakota’s Senators — Republicans Kevin Cramer and John Hoeven — said they had contacted both the State Department and the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States to ask for Groszhans’ release, Axios reported.

If there’s any way of judging of how U.S. prisoners in Ukraine will be treated if the Russians do take over the country, one need only to look toward the situation for Trevor Reed and Paul Whelan, former Marines imprisoned in Russia whom the United States considers to be “unlawfully detained.”

Whelan is serving a 16-year sentence on espionage charges after a trial in 2020 that has been denounced by U.S. officials as unfair, according to CNN. A Michigan businessman who was arrested in 2018 while in Moscow to attend a wedding, he is being held in a labor camp hundreds of miles east of Moscow, according to a Detroit Free Press report from March 1.

Reed — who allegedly fought with police officers in Russia while drunk in 2019 — is currently serving a nine-year sentence in a remote penal colony in Russia where he’s been out of direct communication with his family for eight months now.

ABC News reported last week that his family believes his health is “dangerously deteriorating,” with reports he may have contracted tuberculosis in December. He’s been coughing up blood several times a day, he told an attorney who visited with him on Wednesday.

“We are desperately worried about Trevor’s health — our son is out of time, and the [Biden] Administration needs to act now,” his parents said in a statement, according to ABC.

“From one set of military parents to another — we need your help,” the statement said, addressing President Biden and first lady Jill Biden. “Only you can save his life!”

One shouldn’t be too certain they would, considering the Americans who were left behind in Afghanistan or the ones in pre-trial detention in Ukraine.

This is arguably the most cowardly move the president has made when it comes to American presence abroad. While certainly not a human catastrophe on the scale as our chaotic withdrawal from Kabul, we also evacuated our staff from Kyiv before Russians even came close to the city in a war in which the United States isn’t a combatant.

The Kremlin likely wouldn’t dare to treat whatever embassy staff remained behind the same way the Taliban would have treated the staff in Afghanistan — or how the Russians are treating civilians like Trevor Reed or Paul Whelan, who lacked the protection afforded diplomatic personnel. Nevertheless, withdraw we did.

Still, the only hit to Biden himself for a stubborn refusal to learn from history will likely be a hit in the polls. The real suffering will be left, as always, to others.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture