L.F. Payne, a Democrat, represented Virginia’s 5th Congressional District from 1988-1997. He currently serves as President of the U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress (FMC).
Barbara Comstock, a Republican, represented Virginia’s 10th Congressional District from 2015-2019 and currently serves as President-Elect of FMC.
Since its inception in 1974, the U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress (FMC)’s Distinguished Service Award has traditionally been given to a current or former Member of Congress, who has made extraordinary contributions to the United States Congress, public service, or representative democracy. Previous recipients include President Gerald Ford, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, Senator Sam Nunn, and Congresswoman Gabby Giffords to name a few of our incredibly deserving past honorees. However, along with our colleagues, we decided to break FMC’s long-running tradition and dedicate our 2023 Distinguished Service Award to the people of Ukraine during our annual membership meeting last month.
Over the past year and a half, the people of Ukraine have shown the world how precious representative democracy is and why it is worth fighting for. For decades, we in the United States and our allied nations around the world, in Europe in particular, have enjoyed the freedoms that our representative democracies have produced for us and that our brave service members have defended overseas.
However, since declaring independence in 1991, freedom, democracy, and self-governance have been far from certain for the people of Ukraine. They took to the streets to protest an undemocratic presidential election in 2004, have dealt with Russia’s invasion and occupation of the Donbas region and Crimea since 2014, and now are fighting off Russia’s attempt to take even more land and overthrow their democratically elected government.
Despite the numerous internal and external threats that they have faced as a country within their short 31 years, the Ukrainian people have never lost their dream of living in a free and democratic Ukraine. Their resolve should truly serve as an inspiration for us all.
Today, many of our authoritarian adversaries constantly opine that democracy does not work and is an outdated model but the people of Ukraine and their unrelenting fight for freedom prove them wrong. From Lviv to Kharkiv, from the capital of Kiev to the villages in the Donbas, the Ukrainian people are not only fighting for their democracy, but they are also making the case for why representative democracy is the strongest, most enduring, and just system of government this world has ever seen.
They have reinvigorated the concept and promise of representative democracy on the world stage and for this reason, we along with our colleagues believe they are incredibly deserving of our 2023 Distinguished Service Award.
We were honored to be joined by Ukrainian Ambassador to the United States, Oksana Markarova at our annual meeting, who graciously accepted the award on behalf of the Ukrainian people. In her speech, she spoke of the harrowing conditions they are facing both on the battlefield and in every aspect of daily life, Ukraine’s deep appreciation of the United States military and humanitarian support, and our shared values that their brave men and women are fighting for.
The award she accepted on behalf of the tens of millions of Ukrainians is made out of the original marble from the steps leading to the U.S. Capitol building. Steps that were traveled by those who played integral roles in the construction and fortification of our own democracy. Its symbolism is meant to underscore the value of the Ukrainian people’s contribution to representative democracy worldwide.
We were honored to recognize the sacrifices of the people of Ukraine in this way, and to use the broad bipartisan voice of our association to show support for the Ukrainian people.
We hope and pray for the safety of the people of Ukraine and will keep them in our hearts as they continue to fight for their freedom and inspire the rest of the free world.