Address of Olena Bogdan, Head of the State Service of Ukraine for Ethnic Affairs and Freedom of Conscience, to the Council of Europe Steering Committee on Anti-Discrimination, Diversity and Inclusion (CDADI) at the Steering Committee plenary session on March 15, 2022.
Dear Distinguished Colleagues,
First of all let me thank Council of Europe for condemning in the strongest possible terms the Russian Federation’s unprovoked aggression against Ukraine and thus standing up to Council of Europe values.
I warmly thank all of the colleagues from different countries who reached out since the Russian attack started before the dawn on February 24th. Your kind concern and empathy are much appreciated.
And thank you for the opportunity to address you today.
Initially, before February 24, I hoped to join you all in Rome in person. However, these weeks, we have Russian missile strikes all over our sky while the ground attack goes on from the East, South and North. Currently, there is no passenger air connection with Ukraine.
It is a special moment in history when truth critically matters. I am sure you already know a lot about this horrible invasion. But, in this statement, I will try to additionally alert you and help you focus on certain facts. While it is not in within the CDADI power to stop the attack, it is important to be aware and to help being aware as many people in the world as you can.
I shall start with some explanations regarding a no-fly zone.
There is no safe place in Ukraine nowadays because the Russian air attack happens all over Ukraine. You can take intelligent guesses about safety but you cannot be ever sure. Safety is about likelihood, not certainty.
The danger is greater closer to airports, TV stations, all kinds of strategic infrastructure. So, you are safer if you are away from anything important. However, missiles also land in random locations. A random village or town with no strategic significance whatsoever.
Russian military also purposefully attacks residential areas. For example, Kharkiv (a large city in the East), Kyiv (the capital of Ukraine) and other places. A maternity hospital was attacked from a Russian plane in Mariupol city.
Their purpose seems to be to generate fear, to foster panic and to raise the stakes before the negotiations. There seems to be a pattern – a purposeful attack on residential areas before a new round of political negotiations.
Ukrainian air defense intercepts many of the missiles. But it cannot intercept all. Bombardment is very intensive right now. Ukraine really needs more air defense equipment and more military airplanes.
Moreover, when a Russian plane flies over a nuclear power plant and shots from above it, Ukrainian artillery cannot act in defense because that is very likely to result into an environmental catastrophe. While the Russian military uses weapons around nuclear power plants, Ukrainian army does not. In this case, Ukraine’s responsibility brings its vulnerability.
That is why Ukraine is asking NATO and all the allies to help ensure a no-fly zone over Ukraine. The no-fly zone would help save many lives and avoid environmental disasters.
In 1994, Ukraine voluntarily disposed its nuclear weapons, then the world’s third-largest arsenal. This was done with the understanding, stipulated in the Budapest Memorandum, that five permanent members of the UN Security Council ‒ the Russian Federation (ironically), the United States of America, the United Kingdom, France and China ‒ guarantee Ukraine’s independence, territorial integrity and inviolability of its borders.
Thus, in 2022, we find ourselves in the situation when UN security mechanisms admittedly failed and a peaceful state, which was unjustifiably attacked, cries out to NATO to establish a no-fly zone over its sky to protect human lives, infrastructure and cultural sites while the Ukrainian army is fighting the on-land attack of the Russian Federation.
It is also important to be acutely aware of several facts in the political context.
While Ukraine had different presidents over the past five presidential terms, Russia and Belarus again and again were falling under the control of the same two persons ‒ respectively Putin and Lukashenko.
It is important to be aware of the fact that it is a very dangerous authoritarian regime trying to invade a democratic state.
It is not a war between two autocracies. It is not a war between two democracies. This regime has been consolidating power over many years. It is a war of an authoritarian state with imperial ambitions against a democratic state. And another highly authoritarian state – Belarus, which has a self-appointed president – is assisting in this invasion.
Think of the past five presidential terms. Ukraine had 5 different presidents since year 2000. What was happening in Russia and Belarus in the meantime? Aleksandr Lukashenko has been in power since 1994. Vladimir Putin since year 2000. Nominally, Dmitriy Medvedev was the president for one of the terms while Putin was the prime-minister. But it has been Putin’s regime over the past two decades. Thus, Ukraine has been standing in sharp contrast to its members – Belarus and Russia.
Think of these facts and what it means for freedom and security of today’s world. While Ukraine is defending itself, Ukraine is also defending a space of freedom in Europe ‒ a space of freedom in today’s world.
There is another fact to be aware of: you cannot have a peaceful protest in Russia today. I would like to thank all those bravehearted people in Russia who are trying to protest against the invasion and in support of peace. Unfortunately, it is not millions and it is not hundreds of thousands. Their peaceful protests are not heard much in Russia and do not last long. All of them are arrestedby Putin’s regime. Thousands of people in Russia have been jailed since the beginning of Russia’s war against Ukraine. Even those peaceful protesters who went out together with their children, were arrested. Those children were separated from their parents and kept behind bars.
Russian TV news stopped being news many years ago. They turned into propaganda instruments glorifying Russia and Putin, praising the so called “Russian world” (“russkiy mir” in Russian), lying about Ukraine and Western countries, and any others who do not fit well into this imaginary world. Russian TV does not show to its citizens what’s happening. A number of Russian citizens do not even know that there is a full-scale war.
Ukraine is not the only state that suffered from the Russian aggression. There was Moldova in 1991, which resulted into Transnistria zone, which is still de-facto controlled by the Russian Federation. There was Georgia in 2008 and then Ukraine in 2014. Impunity encourages greater crimes.
To summarize, today the Russian Federation is a dangerous authoritarian state with imperial ambitions where you cannot criticize your government, you cannot have a peaceful protest, you cannot change your government, and you watch blatant lies on TV. If Ukraine does not win in this war, this authoritarian regime will be right at the EU border.
It is important that Europe and the world join efforts to make sure that lies and violence do not have a final word and that truth and peace win.
Thank you once again for the opportunity to address you today.
Photo: Permanent Mission of Ukraine to the Council of Europe, following the decisions of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers and Parliamentary Assembly regarding excluding the Russian Federation from the Council of Europe, taken respectively on March 16 and 15, 2022. On March 16, the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers decided, in the context of the procedure launched under Article 8 of the Statute of the Council of Europe, that the Russian Federation ceases to be a member of the Council of Europe. On March 15, the Parliamentary Assembly unanimously adopted an Opinion which considered that the Russian Federation can no longer be a member State of the Organisation.