During the last week, Lars Adaktusson, MEP for the Christian Democrats, Sweden, was visiting Ukraine with his colleagues Martin Källstrand and Charlie Weimer. On the trip was also Alexander Mazurkin from Christian Democratic International Center (KIC). The aim was to form an opinion about the country’s vulnerable and difficult situation. In Kyiv, they had meetings and consultations with representatives of civil society, leading politicians, soldiers and aid workers. The second part of the trip was devoted to visit Kharkiv and the troubled eastern parts of the country where they also visited the military posts at the front, just three miles from the enemy positions.
Much has happened in the country since the protests on the Maidan just over a year ago, which led the country to choose its way by concluding an association agreement with the EU. But instead of respecting the Ukrainian way people like Putin chose to interpret the association agreement as a declaration of war. Ill-prepared Ukrainian politicians and Western powers woke up to a fact that Russian troops annexed the Crimea and the eastern areas were flooded by Russian weapons and soldiers.
Through meetings and visits, we were able to see firsthand the enormous challenges facing the country: the humanitarian, economic, military, and political.
The difficult humanitarian situation in the country that arose in the wake of Putin’s war was one of the tour’s strongest impression. According to the SOS Donbass organization, about 1000 people have already died in Donbass only by hunger and lack of medical care. About 5000 estimated to have died as a result of direct combat. 6 million people are dependent on humanitarian aid. Since Russia’s invasion of the Crimea and eastern Ukraine, it is about a million people forced to leave their homes and are now living as refugees in their own country. In the refugee camps in Kharkiv we have met some of these people and at the same time we are impressed by the tremendous work that civil society performs in a situation where the authorities fall short.
During our visit to the Embassy of Sweden, we were given several examples of the disastrous economic situation. Economically, the country is in free fall. Currency, the hryvnia has fallen like a stone towards the seabed. There’s lack confidence in the country among foreign investors. Corruption, bureaucracy, a corrupt business climate and a conflict that no one knows where it will end up doing that one stays away. For Ukrainians themselves and for the importing companies currency case means that everything outside Ukraine’s borders have become 80% more expensive. The World Bank has indeed promised $ 17.5 billion but it’s been a while since any payment to Ukraine actually occurred. The lack of money is acute. Inflation is at 29%. Poverty grows. At the end of 2015, the average citizen to be 30% poorer than when the Soviet Union collapsed.
On location in Ukraine, it becomes clear how Putin’s cold war turned into a hot conflict. There is no doubt that the Ukrainian army is in need of additional support from the outside world in order to resist further Russian aggression. According to Taras Pastukh, we met in Kiev, Russia continuously is shipping in new weapons to the militants. According to him, the separatists now access more armored vehicles than Germany and France together – while Ukrainians fight with old weapons. Everyone we met appealed to Europe for support and assistance.
In terms of policy reforms is it hard while it is important to bear in mind that it took a long time for the other Eastern European countries to reform. Nevertheless, for the country’s development, it is absolutely necessary to get rid of the oligarchs’ influence and to fight corruption. President Poroshenko has stated that Ukraine should be ready for EU entry in 2020 and presented a list of changes that must be in place. However, for this to happen, the Western countries should support Ukraine more actively, both in terms of the security situation and the economic crisis. The government must make people accountable: both in terms of fatal shootings against Euromaidan activists and corruption. The judiciary and the police must be fundamentally reformed.
In the midst of all the darkness, there are light points. Yanukovych is gone and a new parliament is in place with many young and reform-minded people. A majority in the new parliament now consists of pro-Western members and for the first time ever, over half of the citizens supports accession to NATO. Ukraine has made its choice – which is positive. Putin’s actions have had consequences for the Ukrainian population’s views on the EU and NATO.
Three lessons have appeared particularly evident to us during the trip:
- The issue of humanitarian, economic and military support to Ukraine feels more urgent than ever. In all our meetings with both political and religious leaders the need for the world to assist Ukraine was underscored.
- Civil society supporting role is impressive and something that we in the West can learn from Ukraine. They actively participate in the reform process, and in an impressive way, active citizens fill the role that in many cases the state has in our countries.
- During the visit, it became apparent how important the sanctions against Russia are. An employee of the organization “Reanimation package of reform,” pleaded: “Keep pushing for sanctions against Russia. These are the signs that Europe cares. We cannot stand alone against Russia”. The West comprehensive sanctions against Russia (which in combination with low oil prices) has weakened the Russian economy and hence Putin.
Overall, we note after the visit that the situation in Ukraine is serious. Putin’s aggression is far from being over. At a time when America’s foreign policy is characterized by passivity and Europe is not prepared, Putin has identified a historic opening for increased Russian influence through military aggression. Only genuine commitment and tangible action from the outside world that can stop the man of power in the Kremlin.
Therefore, we continue to pursue the issues in the European Parliament. The EU must not betray Ukraine. Ukrainians are showing tremendous courage and determination to defend their country. Euromaidan activists gave their lives to belong to the West. Their memory and the Ukrainian people’s freedom deserves to be honored by our wholehearted support.