For almost one and a half years of Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine, the country has been going through unprecedented challenges. We spoke with Kira Rudik, ALDE Party Vice-President, Ukrainian MP and leader of Golos party, to find out how she sees the situation in her country, what are the lessons we can learn from this war, and how she maintains hope.
This interview was conducted on Europe Day, 9 May, which Ukraine, for the first time, celebrated as an EU candidate country.
Kira Rudik, how would you describe the current state of liberal values in Ukraine?
Things are not always black and white during the war. But fortunately, there are liberal values that are unchangeable for us, even in wartime.
The most important value is human life. It is the one that separates democracy from tyranny. The rule of law is also crucial. It’s worth noting that we are making significant progress on this, so I hope it will help us to build a new Ukraine.
Of course, one can’t talk about liberal values without talking about freedom. Freedom needs to be a part of every aspect of a human’s life. This is why our party Golos recently submitted legislation to allow civil partnerships, and we will fight very hard to make it pass.
However, there are liberal values we have needed to limit in order to be able to fight this war. First of all, we have needed to put some limitations on the freedom of speech. We must counteract Russian propaganda, and be very careful of what we are saying, for example, on the TV. Political debates are being held behind closed doors. We know that every statement we are making publicly can be used against us by the enemy propaganda machinery.
Another example is the freedom of religion. We found out that the Russian church built up a wide network of Russian spies in Ukraine, so we had no other choice but to limit its activities.
And how do you see the support and input from the European Union and the international community since the beginning of the war?
We are extremely grateful for every piece of support we have been receiving since the first day of the full-scale invasion. We know and feel that we are not alone: we belong to the larger European family.
This war has taught us a lot about leadership, about those moments when you have to carry more than you can bear, and when you have to defend what you believe in. The EU has understood that we need to go above and beyond to help defend our shared European values. And the goal is not to defend them only in Ukraine but in every single country where these values are in danger.
What was the first and the most inspiring thing you received from the EU?
That was definitely granting Ukraine the candidate status for EU membership. It was a very powerful sign of support which made us feel even more motivated.
Right now, we are working to make sure that we will become an EU Member State in the near future. We have done everything from the legislative point to complete a 7-step plan from the EU Council. We realise that this is our chance to have a real European perspective.
Are there any lessons for the future that we should not forget?
The main thing here, undoubtedly, is the lesson of unity. We would not be able to be where we are if Ukrainians were not united against the enemy, and if the rest of the democratic free world wasn’t behind us.
The second lesson to be learnt by heart is that unpunished evil always returns. The war didn’t start in 2022, it started in 2014 when Putin annexed Crimea and occupied our Eastern territories. And what we see now is that the lack of response let him go further. This war is not only about Ukrainian sovereignty. We are also fighting against the precedent that in the 21st century a country can unleash a war, kill, commit war crimes, atrocities and just get away with it.
We should remember that tyranny is fast, and democracy is slow. During the war, time is of the essence which means we need to decide beforehand what to do if, for example, there will be an attack on nuclear plants or if nuclear weapons are used. We should figure out how we can balance the need to act swiftly without jeopardizing our own democratic values.
The next point is the demand for justice. What drives us forward is knowing that one day Putin and all other war criminals will be held accountable for their actions. We are not trying to destroy them, we just will follow the rule of law. Recently, President Zelenskyy was recently in the Hague and said “this is where Putin will be judged”. It was very symbolic.
I want all of us to remember that when we are standing as a united front – impossible things become possible. That is the magic of unity.
Your country and people are going through such a difficult time. How do you remain so hopeful?
Hope is the fuel that we are running on. Sometimes it’s rage, fear or pain but most of all it is love and hope. So many people in the West have opened their hearts and homes for Ukrainians and pushed their governments to help us. This is so inspiring.
Over the last year, I have visited 34 countries to make sure the support of Ukraine continues. At every meeting, our western friends and allies confirm their willingness to stand with us as long as it takes. This is what we need to win this war. This is the magic of unity.