Ukraine cannot fight evil with empty hands

Ukraine cannot fight evil with empty hands

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The writer, co-winner of the 2022 Nobel Prize for Peace, heads the Center for Civil Liberties in Kyiv and is on the board of the Institute for War & Peace Reporting

My friend, a writer, texted last night from his trench to say a gentle goodbye. His unit is expecting an attack any time, but they do not have the heavy artillery they need to repel the assault.

I am thousands of miles away from Ukraine, on a six-city lecture tour across the US, addressing public meetings and briefing members of Congress. But the war stays with us Ukrainians wherever we may travel. Rest is impossible when, back home, the delay in delivering crucial arms is costing the lives of our friends, our relatives, our countrymen.

The $60bn US package has been stalled for months by what, for Americans, is domestic politics; for us Ukrainians, it is a matter of life and death. In my meetings here, I am frequently asked: since Ukraine cannot expect to defeat Russia on the battlefield, shouldn’t it accept a land deal? Won’t more arms just mean more death?

Indeed, Ukraine has seen far too much death — I know, because my colleagues and I see it daily. For the past decade, my organisation has documented war crimes by Russian forces occupying my country. Since the full invasion in February 2022, the scale of crimes has escalated exponentially. With a network of Ukrainian groups, we have documented killings, rape and torture — beatings, peeling off fingernails, genital electric shock. One woman I interviewed had her eye extracted by a spoon. To date, we have documented 68,000 crimes.

Yet this is only the tip of the iceberg, because such crimes are central to both the method and the purpose of the invasion. The Russian position, as the president has made repeatedly clear, is that Ukrainian language and culture, that Ukraine and Ukrainians, do not exist.

A premature deal would be wrong — not least because we tried it already, and it failed. In 2014, Russia seized Crimea and part of the Donbas. Ukraine was not able to respond effectively, and the international response was muted. A ceasefire was then agreed. All Russia did was use the next eight years to prepare forward bases for the next attack. Moscow will only do the same again.

An early deal would also be immoral. You do not make peace by disarming the invaded country. This would be occupation and we know what that would mean.

In a de-occupied area of the Kharkiv region, after the Ukraine army pushed Russian forces back, the degraded body of beloved Ukrainian children’s writer Volodymyr Vakulenko was discovered in an unmarked mass grave in the Izyum woods. After extensive investigation, the Russian soldiers responsible for this crime have recently been identified.

Why kill a children’s writer? Russia kills Ukrainian civilians because it can. After decades of brutal warfare — in Chechnya, in Syria and beyond — it has never been held accountable.

Russia is now increasing its assaults on Ukrainian civilian infrastructure, and we expect a major attack this summer. Our capital city, my home, could again be under direct threat.

In the meantime, destabilisation activities are under way against Moldova and other neighbouring countries. Moscow is the centre but Russia’s imperial vision has no defined borders. This nightmare — this endless cataloguing of human pain — will only continue.

The solution is to defeat Russia and this authoritarian ideology. A stand must be made, and Ukrainians are bravely making it. War is horrible. But Ukrainians know what Russia brings, and the clear majority of the population — more than 70 per cent — support continuing the fight “as long as it takes”.

We respect American politics. We know every country has its own priorities and financial issues. We are grateful for the generous support we have received so far from the US, Europe and other countries around the world, both from governments and ordinary citizens. But now we need more help, and we need it soon. Ukraine wants peace more than anyone. But we cannot fight evil with empty hands. Strengthen Ukraine, let us pursue the war as far as we can — our vision is to the internationally recognised 1991 borders — and then we can discuss peace. Our friends in Russian human rights groups tell us the same: the best way to help Russian democracy is to defeat Russian militarism in Ukraine.

This is not a war for land. It is a war for survival. Not just of the Ukrainian people but of the basic values of human rights, of democracy, of liberty. The majority of American people know this and support more aid for Ukraine. The majority of members of Congress agree. Meanwhile, I continue to get text messages from the front every night. Will the US send fresh arms before it is too late?