And the reason is the understanding Latvia has for Ukraine due to common history, now the country lends great political support to Ukraine while being alarmed by massive Russian troops at its border.
As of today, Ukraine and Latvia have very good relations. The countries continue close political, economic and cultural cooperation. “Latvia is one of our closest partners in the EU, not only because we have historical ties and are closely cooperating now, but also because this country, like no other country in Western Europe, understands what Ukraine is going through. Not only the government and parliament support us but also ordinary people,” said Yevgen Perebyinis, Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador in Latvia, at a Skype discussion held at Ukraine Crisis Media Center within the framework of UCMC project “Diplomacy without Borders”.
According to Yevgen Perebyinis, political relations between Ukraine and Latvia are very active; there are almost daily visits at different levels. “Latvia provides powerful political support in all areas, both bilateral and multilateral. Latvia is a member of almost all important international organizations, and although it is a small country, Latvia states its support for Ukraine very clearly,” he said. This concerns granting visa-free regime to Ukraine, full ratification of the Association Agreement and continuation of sanctions against Russia.
Yevgen Perebyinis noted that Latvia, both the government and the society, are really alarmed by Russia’s growing military activity – increase in military maneuvers near the borders, constant movement of ships and aircraft, so they begin to raise their defense potential. He reminded that the Warsaw Summit had decided to increase the NATO contingent to 1,000 military – it is supposed to be a significant deterrent. Yevgen Perebyinis said that Latvians sometimes come to picket the Russian embassy.
However, a certain part of society, mainly Russian-speaking, think in terms of Russian propaganda. The government understands the strategic danger of this information influence and is developing counter tools that would not contradict the standards of freedom of expression. “The Latvian regulator closely monitors broadcastings, including Russian channels, and occasionally suspends broadcasting for propaganda of war, national intolerance and so on. For example, this happened to the channel “Russia” and some others six months ago. But they focus not on banning but on providing the Russian audience with a quality product that would give objective information about their situation,” said Yevgen Perebyinis. One of the proposals is to set up a joint Baltic or even the EU channel for producing a high-quality multilingual content for this audience.
Yevgen Perebyinis said that Latvia and Ukraine are considering the possibility of increasing trade between the countries, because it has decreased recently. It will be discussed at the meeting of the Ukrainian-Latvian intergovernmental commission on trade and economic cooperation on December 12-13.
Help to children of the wounded Ukrainian military
Since the beginning of the military actions in the East Ukraine, more than 35 Ukrainian servicemen have undergone treatment in Latvia. “They have been treated for injuries requiring microsurgery operations that are successfully conducted in Latvia. Just yesterday one more serviceman was successfully operated on,” informed the ambassador. Treatment is partly financed from Latvia’s budget under the support program for rehabilitation of Ukrainian military, and partly – by volunteers.
Besides, over these two years more than 200 children of the military killed or wounded during the combat operations, and of internally displaced persons have spent their vacations in Latvia. “Yesterday, the children returned to Ukraine from their 2 weeks’ vacations in Jurmala. Those two weeks were full of the new experiences, gifts and friends,” informed Yevgen Perebyinis.
There are also related cultural projects. A few weeks ago in the military museum in Riga hosted the project “Winners,” implemented by “1 + 1” and “Viva” TV channels. Besides, a concert of children musicians from Donbas was held in Riga in support of the project. “This project is not only educational. It is shocking the unprepared audience. I think this project has led many people to realize that there is a real war in Ukraine,” noted Yevgen Perebyinis. He added that the project has gained considerable publicity and people ask to show it in other cities as well. The Ukrainian Congress in cooperation with the Embassy granted certificates for the rest in the rehabilitation center in Jurmala to three servicemen participating in the project.
Last year the concert of talented children from Donbas held in Jurmala under the patronage of Speaker of the Latvian Parliament Inari Murnietse as part of the project “Children of War” became the biggest event. “People through buying tickets for this concert raised over 70,000 euros for Ukrainian children to spend their vacations in Latvia. More than 100 children have already visited Latvia under this project,” informed Yevgen Perebyinis.
The cost of the humanitarian aid provided by Latvians over these 2 years has exceeded 1 million euros. It includes equipment for hospitals, essential items for the military at the forefront, assistance to families of IDPs. One of the most active NGOs is “SOS Help for Ukrainian army.” “Almost every month they go by minibus to the front line and bring whatever is required to our soldiers – from clothes and shoes to night vision devices,” informed Yevgen Perebyinis.