BILLINGS — Senator Steve Daines was in Eastern Europe last week visiting the countries of Hungary and Slovakia when he took up an offer to bear witness to the devastation in Ukraine during its weeks-long war with Russia.
"The sight and the smell is something that I would wish on nobody and I'll never forget. It was horrible," Daines told MTN News on Monday.
Daines is one of the first U.S. officials to set foot on Ukrainian soil since the war began in February. He was in Eastern Europe visiting Hungary and Slovakia, both Ukrainian border countries.
"I was visiting countries that border Ukraine that have energy dependencies on Russia, as well as could be important in getting lethal aid into Ukraine," Daines said.
He got an invite from a Ukrainian leader to visit the country and made his way there on Thursday. He flew to Poland and was driven to the border by a Ukrainian pastor, then walked over the border into Ukraine at night. Another Ukrainian pastor then drove Daines to the Laviv train station for a nine-hour ride to the capitol city of Kyiev.
"The train would stop and start based on missile activity," Daines said.
He traveled to Bucha, Ukraine, a city of 35,000 that is the site of mass civilian graves.
"The worst of all was when we went to the site with the shallow graves where they put hundreds of people, murdered by the Russians. Executed by the Russians," Daines said.
Daines said he saw the bodies of civilian men, women and children in the graves.
"They did forensic analysis because they are making a case for war crimes committed by Vladamir Putin and the Russians," Daines said.
So where does the world go from here? Daines believes the war in Ukraine should highlight the need for a strong U.S. military and put a focus on energy independence.
"I hope that this terrible situation in Ukrain, if there's a silver lining in this very very dark cloud, it's a need for a strong military and made in American energy," Daines said.
Daines said Ukraine is a lot like Montana in that they are an agricultural country that produces a lot of wheat for the world. As war rages on, its impacts will be felt globally.
"This war in Ukraine is effecting the world. It's effecting prices of food. This could create famine in places like Egypt and Africa because they are dependent on this Ukrainian wheat. What happens there effects us all," Daines said.