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The Inspiring True Story Behind Netflix’s the Swimmers

Elijah

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Film producers were lining up in 2016 to secure rights to the life story of professional swimmers Yusra and Sara Mardini, but the sisters turned down multiple offers. The siblings were known for their remarkable story of survival and heroism, but after fleeing Syria’s ongoing civil war just one year earlier, they weren’t yet ready for the world to see it on screen.

During their journey, the sisters arrived in Turkey on a plane and hoped to reach Germany via Greece on a boat. They went up against the chilling waves of the Aegean Sea, when the motor on the overcrowded dinghy carrying 18 other asylum seekers suddenly stalled. The Mardini sisters jumped into the water without hesitating, grabbed hold of the ropes along with two other passengers, and used their lifelong swimming skills to drag everyone to safety. That day, their 45-minute boat ride turned into a three-and-a-half-hour swim.

“I said no because I wanted to focus on the Olympics. It had been a dream of mine since I was 9 years old, so I wanted to enjoy every single bit of it,” recalls Yusra, now 24, who was gearing up to participate at Rio’s 2016 Summer Olympics as part of the first-ever refugee team. “Some producer said no one is going to be interested in the story after Rio and I told them ‘That’s OK, I’m here to swim,'” she adds.

That producer was wrong. On Nov. 23, the Mardini sisters’ story finally hits the screen as The Swimmers, directed by Sally El Hosaini, arrives on Netflix.

Nathalie Issa as Yusra Mardini, Manal Issa as Sara Mardini, Ahmed Malek as Nizar
Laura Radford/Netflix

What happens in The Swimmers?

The film follows 17-year-old Yusra and 20-year-old Sara (played by Nathalie and Manal Issa, respectively) in their simple life in Daraya, Damascus, before it was disrupted by the escalation of Syria’s civil war. What began as peaceful, pro-democracy demonstrations against President Bashar al-Assad in 2011 escalated into a full-scale war when the government met dissidents with deadly force. Before this, the sisters participated in swim lessons with coaching from their father, partied with friends, and spent time with their parents, younger sister, and bird Lulu (a stand-in for their real-life cat.)

As the effects of war become harder to avoid, Sara convinces her family that she and Yusra, along with their cousin Nizar (Ahmed Malek), should embark on a journey to Germany, where some of their friends have fled to. Their plan is to apply for family reunification, which would allow the rest of their family to join them, before Yusra turns 18. After a treacherous journey involving social stigma from disapproving European citizens and corrupt smugglers, the trio arrive in Berlin where they become refugees. There, a confident Yusra barges into a local swimming club, boasting her times, and gains sponsorship by coach Sven, who trains her to join the first-ever refugee team at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

“I watched the film for the first time with my sister and we were crying and then laughing and then crying again,” recalls Yusra. “They did an amazing job. The two girls who played us were real sisters from Lebanon so they understood our background.”

“The film was a reminder of how strong our relationship was and how we were super close,” says Sara, now 27, adding that she and Yusra went on different paths after they arrived in Germany. Yusra continued a professional sporting career and also became the youngest ever Goodwill Ambassador for the U.N refugee agency in April 2017, while Sara returned to Greece in August 2016 to provide life-saving aid to other refugees.

Manal Issa in ‘The Swimmers’
Ali G?ler/Netflix

What did Yusra and Sara’s journey from Syria to Germany really look like?

It took Yusra and Sara 25 days to get from Syria to Germany, with the first portion of their trip taking place via flights then by boat to Greece. “Then it was by foot, we walked, used buses, taxis, whatever we could use,” says Yusra.

Recalling the most taxing part of their journey, when they swam in the Aegean Sea for over three hours, Sara says she thought of absolutely nothing. “I was scared to die, but I felt like someone had to do it to make the boat lighter,” she recalls. Yusra recalls that her mind was also blank when they were trying to stabilize the boat because she was too focused on surviving to think about anything else.

The sisters also experienced a lot of anti-migrant prejudice and discrimination in Europe and initially struggled to embrace the term “refugee”: “People were treating you as if you have some kind of disease, like you’re not human,” says Sara.

But one joyful aspect of being a refugee was belonging to a diverse community that looked out for one another. Sara says there were as many as 30 people in Turkey waiting to cross the waters and they became a “big family,” adding that they slept on a rotation system to keep each other safe.

Laura Radford/Netflix

What do Yusra and Sara want people to take away from their life story?

After witnessing people’s shock when she doesn’t fit their stereotype of a downtrodden refugee, Yusra wants to challenge the idea that refugee identity is a monolith. She also hopes the film counters the misconception that people flee their country because they want to enjoy the resources of their host nation: “It’s not a luxurious life, you have to fill out so much paperwork, some people fall into depression, some are not accepted by their host societies–they have to leave behind everything they know.” She wants viewers to remember that small acts of kindness toward desperate people go a long way.

Meanwhile, Sara hopes people realize that single male refugees, much like their cousin Nizar, have it “10 times harder” than women or children. “They’re the last ones to be checked or to be taken care of” but they are often vilified in the media, she says. She is also redeemed by the idea that people will see that her half of the story is equally valid and fearless, after years of being defined as Yusra’s sister–due to the Olympian’s high profile after she won the opening heat of the 100m butterfly with a time of 1 minute and 9.21 seconds in 2016.

Nathalie Issa as Yusra Mardini and Manal Issa as Sara Mardini in ‘The Swimmers’
Laura Radford/Netflix

Where are the Mardini sisters now and what’s next for them?

Growing up, the Mardini sisters say they were so attached at the hip that they were more like twins, but now they are on different paths and even continents. Yusra returned to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics last year; she qualified for team Syria but still chose to be on the refugee team, and she is currently studying film and television production in California.

She is also continuing her U.N ambassadorship, which she says involves on-the-ground work at refugee camps, as well as advocating at high-level events: “I will tell my story a million times until I see change,” says Yusra.

Meanwhile, Sara, who is still passionate about swimming for enjoyment, has had a tempestuous few years working with a refugee aid organization in Lesbos, which led to her and two colleagues being arrested by Greek authorities in 2018. The charges brought against the three workers were on suspicion of trafficking and smuggling migrants into Greece, as well as spying and money laundering. Sara spent 107 days in prison before she was released on bail. Sara says they only received an English translation of their case file in November, and last week she was able to return to a Greek courthouse to submit a memo stating that they still believe they are innocent.

While the trio await their January court date, Sara is back in Berlin and keen to focus on her mental health and finally learn German properly: “I want to work on it and hopefully go back to school.” The rest of the Mardini family crossed the sea to Europe in 2016 and they now live in Berlin. Sara says they haven’t returned to visit Syria yet but they hope to do it together. “It’s a new beginning,” she concludes.

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The World Cup Is Highlighting the Joys of Arab and Latin American Soccer Commentary

Elijah

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After one of the biggest soccer upsets in history on Tuesday–which saw Saudi Arabia emerge as victorious underdogs in a game against World Cup favorite Argentina–an unlikely star emerged. It was not the kingdom’s star striker, Saleh Alshehri, who scored the team’s first goal; nor was it Salem Aldawsari, who put Saudi Arabia ahead of Argentina and ensured its ultimate 2-1 victory. Instead, it was the booming voice of Khalil al-Balushi–an Omani sports commentator working for Al-Kass Sports, a Qatari broadcaster–that stole the show.

When Aldawsari scored, al-Bulashi’s now-viral Arabic monologue invoked the language of an epic poem. According to a translation by an Arabic-speaking fan, al-Balushi roared “write this in history” and exclaimed “Allah, Allah, Allah” over and over again in deafening disbelief.

Al-Balushi added: “Here at Lusail stadium! You are making history! What a moment. Insanity in its purest definition. I speak from the insides of my heart. With the emotions of my heart. A proud Arab. And with this 2nd goal, a beautiful goal, a majestic goal. YES… Impossible is not a word that exists in the Saudi and Arab dictionary.” He continued by describing Aldawsari’s goal a “thunderous” strike, before calling his first name, Salem, over and over again.

That kind of impassioned commentary is well-known in the Arab world but is rarely seen by a foreign audience. Some on social media said it made English-language commentary feel a little lackluster by comparison.

Arabs have a particularly close relationship with soccer–which is the most popular sport in the region, and features many national leagues. As such, it has colloquially been dubbed a second religion to many. The game is played socially among children and adults alike, with the increased participation of women leading to the first ever Arab Women’s Cup in 2021. This love of soccer has led a number of Arab commentators, including al-Bulashi, Jordan’s Kahled al-Ghoul, and Saudi Arabia’s Fahd Al-Otaib to become widely-known figures.

But Arab commentators are hardly alone in their palpable passion for soccer. Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking commentators are also widely regarded as soccer monomaniacs. Latin American commentators, like Arab ones, are especially known for screaming “goal” with gusto.

According to the New York Times, the phenomenon in South America dates back to 1946, 14 years after soccer was first broadcast live on Brazilian radio. S?o Paulo announcer Rebello J?nior ecstatically celebrated a goal by bellowing an elongated “gooool”–the Spanish and Portuguese word for goal–until he ran out of breath.

Andr?s Cantor, an Argentine American sportscaster who covered the 2018 FIFA World Cup, has been dubbed “Mr. Goal” for his energetic outbursts. The commentator told the Washington Post he doesn’t tire of being recognized for the way he yells “goal” and for his narration style.

“Obviously it conveys a lot of passion,” Cantor said. “The way the ‘goal’ scream works has a lot to do with several factors but mainly the importance of the goal.”

Cantor added that the word must hold a prolonged “ooooo” sound but reminded people he did not invent the oral tradition–he merely popularized the Latin American expression of love for soccer.

Cantor isn’t wrong. When Argentina scored its second winning goal against Nigeria during the 2018 World Cup in Russia, an Argentinian commentator was reduced to tears during a live broadcast. Similarly, Egyptian captain Mohamed Salah scored a penalty against Congo that brought his nation to the 2018 World Cup, and made an Arabic-speaking commentator cry in the process. If the emotions of Arab and Latin American commentators remain as high this year, it’s safe to say the world is set to witness a World Cup that will continue to make headlines in unexpected ways.

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Weary and Thirsty, World Cup Fans Try to Find Joy at a Complicated Tournament

Elijah

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Asked why he chose to stay on the MSC Poesia, one of three huge cruise liners currently docked in Doha for the 2022 Qatar World Cup, Australia fan Rob Maurich gives a straightforward reply: “Alcohol.”

Liquor is heavily restricted in the tiny Gulf nation, available at certain times in luxury hotels and a single official FIFA Fan Festival where beer is only sold between 7 p.m. and 1 a.m. (Qatar also has one liquor store but purchases are limited to non-Muslim residents.) Cruise ships are exempt from these rules, meaning–win, lose, or tie–Maurich and his buddies can knock back cold ones into the early hours. “Particularly after the late games, you get back to the boat by 1:30 a.m., and then everyone rolls in for a few nightcaps,” he says. “We’ve had a couple of late ones!”

Of course, this comes with a cost. The price of cruise ship cabins were initially advertised at around $250 per night but were being booked for over $1,000 as the tournament neared. Erik Dahdouh, a consultant from Sweden, is spending $400 a night for a tiny, windowless cabin on the albeit-luxurious MSC Europa. He’s found the entire spectacle in Doha rather underwhelming. “It’s just really empty everywhere,” says Dahdouh. “We walked back through the city and there’s nobody other than migrant workers with Argentina shirts.”

FIFA and the Qatari government have spent the last 12 years insisting that meticulous preparations were being made for the first World Cup ever held in the Arab world. But scrutiny has dogged Qatar as human rights groups and much of the world’s media focus on the exploitation of migrant labor, the government’s criminalization of same-sex relationships, and uneasy questions over how a small though incredibly wealthy Gulf nation came to host the world’s biggest sporting event. “When the original bid went through, most people in the football industry thought it was laughable, that it wasn’t serious,” says Geoff Pearson, a senior lecturer at the University of Manchester whose research focuses on law and security within soccer.

Read More: Thousands of Migrant Workers Died in Qatar’s Extreme Heat. The World Cup Forced a Reckoning

Many fans have chosen to stay away, but those who have made the journey to Doha express a determination not to let the myriad controversies tarnish their experience, despite stifling policing, including the relentless checking of identity documents, and unpredictable regulations such as the 11th hour decision to ban alcohol sales outside stadiums. It’s an uphill battle, however.

“It’s very spacious, very clean, people are very friendly,” says Con Harboglou, a public servant from Melbourne who traveled to support Australia with his 18-year-old son, Joseph. “But I don’t think it’s got the spark it should, and I think there’s going to be a lot less interest and fewer fans with this World Cup, unfortunately, because of people thinking about corruption and other [controversies].”

Around 3 million fans traveled to Russia in 2018 but only 1.2 million are expected in Qatar. Still, this year’s tournament is expected to shatter television viewership records, with some 5 billion people tuning in from around the globe. And despite the controversy over the diminished availability of Budweiser–which pays around $75 million to be associated with the World Cup–FIFA announced it has sold out all its commercial sponsorship packages. Not that traveling fans will be toasting that development.

But while finding–rather than recovering from–beer has perversely been the biggest headache for many fans at this year’s tournament, it’s far from the only gripe. Guests at some expensive hotels have found they cannot watch the World Cup anywhere on the premises, since host broadcaster BeIN Sports has charged an eye-watering 100,000 Qatari riyals ($27,500) subscription fee for commercial enterprises to show games. That has meant far too many businesses do not show the games at all.

“It’s a weird feeling,” says Annie Borgwardt, a dentist from Stockholm, who was at the Argentina-Saudi Arabia game on Tuesday. “You don’t feel it’s really any real life so to speak. It feels like a theme park, nothing feels genuine.”

Yet not everyone agrees with that sentiment. The Argentina-Saudi Arabia match saw the latter pull off an upset for the ages, causing an outpouring of joy among much of the Arab world. Even Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, whose country had been the target of a four-year Saudi-led blockade–which ended in 2021–over its alleged support of Islamist groups around the region could be seen heartily waving a Saudi flag during the game.

“The World Cup is about [soccer], not beer,” says Farid, 26, an Algerian who previously studied in Qatar and returned to Doha to see old friends and is supporting Morocco in the World Cup. “Why should a country be excluded just because the people don’t like alcohol?”

“It’s not very attractive for fans”

Some fans have shelled out over $200 for a plastic tent with no A/C or running water. Others have been more fortunate. Rocky Martin, 32, an engineer from Portland, Or., opted for a converted “deluxe shipping container” near the Mall of Qatar for around $200 a night, which he’s sharing with a friend. “It’s got two beds, shower, toilet, refrigerator, and air conditioning,” he says. “But I don’t anticipate spending much time there.”

Meanwhile, security arrangements have lurched between overbearing and outright dangerous. Fans arriving at 9:30 p.m. for Saturday’s opening of the Fan Festival–a bleak expanse of concrete sandwiched between Doha’s imposing Interior Ministry Building and the sea–were confronted by a huge crowd that swelled outside a locked main gate, as predominantly Pakistani security guards wagged fingers at each other. Suddenly, a tiny slither in the barricade was flung open and the multitude lurched forward, steel barriers tumbling over. At least three women fell under the melee, this reporter saw, as insults and elbows were hurled from the crush.

After 20 minutes of inching forward as every arrival’s “Hayya” immigration card was painstakingly checked, the wheezing mob melted into the fan-zone, brushing off the danger and indignities as Lebanese singer Myriam Fares gyrated on stage before a phalanx of dancers in golden pantaloons. “Well, that was nuts,” said a Wales fan in a bucket hat while lining up for a Budweiser afterward. “I hope we don’t have to endure that every night just to get a pint.”

But far from teething problems, the situation at the Fan Festival has only deteriorated since. On Sunday, tens of thousands of fans pushed and shoved against police armed with batons and shields. “It’s very risky. People, they could die,” Hatem El-Berarri, an Iraqi who said he was working in neighboring Dubai, told the AP.

The dicey security situation is particularly concerning considering Qatar has sidestepped many traditional problems. Typically, at a World Cup, the twin security issues are policing inside stadiums and the tens of thousands of “soccer tourists,” who want to follow the team but don’t have tickets, and require fan zones and other areas to drink and socialize. But by virtue of being an expensive and ultimately unpopular destination, Qatar doesn’t have to deal with the latter. Instead, authorities appear hellbent on making unnecessary trouble, confiscating rainbow flags and hats from fans who dare to endorse equality and inclusion.

“I personally feel really let down by the authorities for basically excluding me from a World Cup, but then also telling the stories about it being ‘free from discrimination’ when I know our LGBTQ+ siblings in Qatar are suffering,” says Chris Paouros, a trans woman and chair of the Qatar Working Group for Kick It Out, an advocacy group combatting discrimination in soccer.

It’s not just LGBTQ+ fans who are staying away, though. For Europeans in particular, the entire point of a World Cup is for fans to celebrate their identity through soccer, by getting together, singing, and having a drink. “That simply isn’t going to happen, certainly not outside stadiums or in public,” says Pearson. “So it’s not very attractive for fans.”

It’s not been smooth sailing at stadiums either, with curious traffic diversions and official shuttle buses frequently getting lost. “It was a bit chaotic at the Argentina game,” says Dahdouh. “In short, we were thrown around a bit. There’s [security] people everywhere but no one knows anything.”

Maurich agrees. “It’s chaos,” he says. “The shuttles drop you much too far from the grounds and then everyone has to walk miles. We’ve resorted to getting Ubers.”

Doha may have world class museums and some of the most breathtaking contemporary architecture in the world. But despite FIFA’s protestations to the contrary, there’s little soccer culture to speak of among ordinary Qataris, as evidenced by how quickly the Al Bayt Stadium emptied after Ecuador scored in the host’s opening match. This is frankly an aberration across the region. (Iranian fans, by contrast, stayed to the bitter end of their 6-2 demolition by England.)

Ultimately, the most boisterous fans on display in Doha are migrant workers from South Asia and Africa, decked out in England, Germany, and (until Tuesday) Argentina shirts. Though with tickets costing in the ballpark of $200, the sad reality is very few will actually get to a game. “No, I’m too busy,” says Ghanian taxi driver Jonathan Apiah, when asked if he’ll get to watch the Black Stars play. He gestures to the picture of his wife and daughter back home on his smartphone background. “I have to work.”

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How Western Leaders Can Keep up Public Support for Ukraine

Elijah

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This has been an unseasonably warm autumn. In parts of North America and across Europe, temperatures have yet to drop to their traditional pre-winter lows, sparing people from having to turn on their heating at a time when soaring energy bills and high inflation are squeezing millions of families.

The milder weather is little comfort for Ukraine, which despite recent battleground victories–including the liberation of the city of Kherson from Russian forces–faces a difficult winter of power outages and water shortages. But for its allies in the West, it is helping stave off what some policymakers and analysts fear could be looming “war fatigue,” in which public support for Ukraine buckles under the burden of rising food and energy costs at home.

The Biden administration reportedly warned Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in private about the potential for such fatigue, according to The Washington Post. Lawmakers in the U.S. and Europe’s largest economies tell TIME that although support for Ukraine remains remarkably stable in their respective countries so far, the prospect of that changing amid a difficult economic winter is not something that can be ignored.

“Western public opinions are a front of the war for [Russian President Vladimir] Putin,” says Benjamin Haddad, a French lawmaker and the spokesperson for Emmanuel Macron’s ruling Renaissance Party in the National Assembly. “He is playing on energy as a weapon to increase energy prices, he is supporting populist movements–all because he understands that transatlantic support for Ukraine has been a key element of the successful Ukrainian resistance.”

If global polling is any indication, those efforts have so far been faltering. Nearly nine months into the war, transatlantic solidarity with Ukraine and its fight against Russian aggression appears to be durable across a number of metrics. Nearly two-thirds of Americans continue to closely follow the developments in Ukraine, according to an October Ipsos poll, and more than half believe that the U.S. should continue to send financial and military aid to Ukraine–a commitment that has surpassed $54 billion to date. Support for Ukraine across Europe is similarly strong, with 60% of E.U. populations supporting the continued delivery of weapons to Ukraine, according to an October survey by the German pollster Bertelsmann Stiftung. Public backing for Ukraine was even stronger among the bloc’s largest economies, with Germany and France standing at 61% and 63%, respectively.

“The German public in its vast majority is very clear-eyed on the reason for the economic and energy problems, which is the war,” says Norbert R?ttgen, a center-right Christian Democratic lawmaker and former chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament. “There has remained until now a remarkably high degree of solidarity, empathy, and rationality.”

What has changed, however, is the economic circumstances surrounding that support. Though Western countries have not been as disproportionately impacted by the war in the way that many poorer nations have across the Middle East and Africa, many of which are highly reliant on Ukraine and Russia for their wheat and grain exports, they too have started to feel the economic pinch.

Energy prices have been a source of particular anxiety among Ukraine’s Western allies. In the U.S., support for sanctions on Russian energy even if it results in rising prices at home has declined from its post-invasion high of 56% to 44%, according to a forthcoming report by the global pollster Morning Consult, with support trending higher among Democrats and Independents (52% and 45%, respectively) than Republicans (35%). The same report, which TIME has reviewed, found that Europeans are especially sensitive to price increases, with just 28% of respondents in France and Germany and 35% in Britain supporting energy sanctions even if it means rising costs. It’s a discrepancy that the report’s author Sonnet Frisbie, Morning Consult’s lead geopolitical risk analyst for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, says can be explained by the fact that “energy inflation in Europe is way higher” than it is across the Atlantic.

These sensitives have manifested themselves in different ways. In Britain, which is reeling from its worst cost-of-living crisis in a generation, support for Ukraine is a largely nonpartisan issue. “This, for now, seems to be one area that we can all agree on,” says Stewart McDonald, a Scottish Nationalist Party lawmaker in the otherwise deeply-divided British parliament and a member of its Foreign Affairs Select Committee. But political consensus doesn’t mean that “we can just rest on our laurels,” he added, noting the potential for the energy crisis–the worst effects of which have been masked by the British government’s energy assistance package–to erode public support. “We still have to be conscious of the public debate around this.”

A man holds a sign that reads: “Enough with sanctions” prior to a Monday-night “stroll” (“Spaziergang”) of protesters on Oct. 24 in Schwerin, Germany.
Sean Gallup–Getty Images

Read More: How Ukraine’s Air Defenses Just Got a Boost

In France and Germany, the political situation is comparatively more fraught. While mainstream parties in both countries are largely in favor of continued military, financial, and humanitarian support for Ukraine, that consensus does not extend to those on the far-right and far-left of the political spectrum, which could seek to exploit the rising cost of living for their own political gain. This is already the case in France, where far-right leader Marine Le Pen has argued for lifting sanctions on Russia on the grounds that they are inflicting more harm on the French than they are on Russians. Recent protests and strikes across the country demanding higher wages to cope with rising costs suggests that the French public’s tolerance for economic pain and sacrifice may have already been met.

“No one wants to be a spokesperson for Putin, but the same people who used to be the pro-Russian voices in France are now making the case differently,” says Haddad, noting their calls to lift sanctions and cease supporting the Ukrainian war effort in favor of peace “are fancy ways of actually supporting the Russian narrative without doing it directly.”

In Germany, where similar protests have taken place, “the most sensitive issue is the energy price hikes,” says Nils Schmid, a German lawmaker and foreign affairs spokesperson for the ruling center-left Social Democrats. While support for Ukraine remains high among the country’s major political parties–albeit with some disagreements over how far that support should go–the prevailing concern is that a vocal minority of anti-Ukraine voices, bolstered by the country’s far-right and far-left factions, could grow louder. As Schmid sees it, two societal cleavages that could be exploited is that between Germany’s East and West (the former of which is historically closer to Russia and a far-right stronghold) and between Germany’s younger and older generations (the latter of which may be more likely to be sympathetic to calls for dialogue and diplomacy with Moscow). Indeed, the far-right Alternative for Germany, whose lawmakers have not hid their affinity for Russia, has seen its position in the polls steadily rise amid growing anger over inflation and the cost-of-living crisis.

But the country that observers anticipate to be most prone to war fatigue is the same one that has provided the most support to Ukraine so far: the U.S. This perception was largely driven by the midterm campaign, during which Republican Party lawmakers such as prospective House Majority leader Kevin McCarthy and Donald Trump acolyte Marjorie Taylor Greene suggested that they would prioritize domestic needs first, with the latter pledging that, under the GOP, “not another penny will go to Ukraine.

The Republicans did not perform as well as expected in the midterms. But regardless of whether the party gains control of the House of Representatives and by how many seats, Ukraine already appears poised to become a more partisan issue in Washington. Democrats are more than twice as likely to say that the U.S. government has a responsibility to protect Ukraine than Republicans, according to Morning Consult. Around one-third of Republicans say that the government is doing “too much” to stop the invasion.

“There is a growing anti-Ukraine tempest in the Republican Party and it’s possible that will mean trouble for Ukraine aid packages in the House,” says U.S. Senator Chris Murphy, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. “So long as Trump’s surrogates are attacking Ukraine, there is going to be a big chunk of the American public that will be skeptical of additional aid packages.”

War fatigue doesn’t have to be a foregone conclusion, though. As many of those who spoke with TIME see it, there are tangible steps that Western governments can take to fortify public support, starting with how they make the case for it. When it comes to addressing Republican fissures over aid to Ukraine, “it would be wrong to treat these questions as illegitimate,” says Matt Duss, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a former chief foreign-policy adviser to Senator Bernie Sanders. “The Biden administration has and should continue to make the argument for why supporting Ukraine’s defense is in the American national interest. I think there’s a strong argument for that. The support for Ukraine will benefit from willingness to engage in these kinds of discussions and meet these arguments and not dismiss them.”

Continually making the case for supporting Ukraine is one thing that governments can do to stave off war fatigue; shielding their populations from the worst economic consequences of the war is another. When Europeans are asked about what most worries them, the rising cost of living repeatedly tops the list, says Isabell Hoffman, the founder of eupinions, a Berlin-based pollster, noting that this sentiment is largely fueled by uncertainty around how much the war will affect them, cost-wise. Britain’s assistance on energy bills is due to expire at the end of March, and there are questions about the size of energy price caps in France and Germany that are expected to go into effect in January.

Perhaps the easiest thing that governments can do is to remind their populations that their support for Ukraine is having its desired effect. “People can see it,” says Haddad of Ukraine’s recent victories. “Their success on the ground is making the case for people like myself and for the French government who have been saying, ‘What we’re doing is having an impact on the ground. It’s working.”

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