A.Kubilius. Impressions from the U4U Network visit to Ukraine (Lutsk, Rivne, Kyiv)

2022-10-28 | Ukraine, U4U, United for Ukraine

On Tuesday evening (October 25th), we arrived in Ukraine with a delegation from U4U (United for Ukraine) network. In the beginning, to the capital of Volhynia, the old city of Lutsk. On Wednesday, we spent the whole day in Lutsk, went to the Belarusian border, visited the military, and in the evening we transferred to the neighbouring Rivne. On Thursday, we found ourselves in Kyiv: meetings in the Rada, with members of the Government, with leaders of the defence industry. In the evening, a night train back to Poland.

Before that, on Saturday morning, three Russian Kalibr missiles severely damaged the power substations in Lutsk and Rivne. The electricity supply is severely restricted. The Rivne nuclear power plant cannot operate at full capacity because the switchyards are not functioning. Ukraine, which was still exporting electricity two weeks ago, is now preparing to import electricity from the European Union.

After Saturday’s Russian missile strike, the only two of us left in our delegation to Ukraine were Mark Demeasmaker, a Belgian senator, together with the author of these lines. Plus two of our advisers. Mark and I share a common background: back in 2015, we were both blacklisted by Putin for our support for Ukraine.

We hear sirens here and there all day long; however, security team reassures us that there is no need to run for cover.

The purpose of the visit is to better understand Ukraine’s needs now that winter is approaching, and to discuss important decisions to be taken by the West: integration into the European Union, NATO membership, the Tribunal, terrorist status for Russia, etc.

General impressions from the visit are that Lutsk, Rivne, Kyiv from the outside seem to be living a normal life: the streets (although poorly lit at night for security reasons) and modern cafes are full of young people; the autumn has beautifully coloured the trees; Lutsk Castle and the old churches are shining with their peaceful antiquity. On the way to the town’s cemetery, we see a huge crowd gathered to bury two fallen heroes (since the beginning of the war, only in Lutsk 90 of those who died at the front have been buried). The military demonstrate how they have set up the border defences with Belarus (water ditch; a concrete wall; roads cut by deep and mined ditches, and swamps stretching around from Pinsk; a battalion headquarters built in the forest, under a single hill, under the ground), the leaders of the government and the military are smiling, and they do not seem to be tired of the war, although they are working day and night.

The main concern of the authorities in Lutsk and Rivne is to prepare for winter amidst the probability that the Russians may destroy the entire energy infrastructure. The towns could be left without electricity, without heat and water supply, without bakeries (because electricity is needed everywhere). Therefore, the main appeal everywhere is to help to buy portable electricity generators. We are currently considering how to organise public support actions in the West for the massive supply of generators to Ukraine. Bayraktars are also needed, but now the main need in the cities behind the frontline is GENERATORS. Cities also need air defence (at least Stingers), which is in very short supply; they need the old Soviet-era electricity distribution equipment (transformers). In Central Europe and in Lithuania they have been replaced by the modern equipment, however, the old Soviet equipment is still stored in warehouses and is now of great use to Ukraine. Cities are planning to set up large heated tents in central squares for the winter, with electricity and warm food to take care of people in case of emergency. We need such tents, portable stoves and more generators. The military and border guards are asking for portable solar panels, similar to those we see at the Belarusian border. The town’s head of social affairs is asking for help to set up counselling rooms for psychologists, because men who return from the front are unable to adapt; in 2014-2015, in Lutsk more young men perished not at the front but because of choosing suicide after returning from the war.

On the Belarusian border, we see powerful border fortifications (concrete wall, barbed wire fence like in Lithuania, water ditch along the entire perimeter of the border), all built by the hands of the border guards themselves, the local authorities and the local communities (businesses, farmers). Defence spendings are allocated in municipal budgets, currently accounting for up to 20-30% of the total budget expenditure.

A businessman in Lutsk (working in a large multinational company producing steel products for the European automotive industry) politely explains that he is pleased with the solidarity of his parent company in Sweden, but at the same time he notes that their main customers in Europe, fearing the business risks involved, are opting for new suppliers from countries that are not in a war. As a result, Lutsk is having to cut production by around 40%. Moreover, the shortage of electricity (the company will receive only 45% of the electricity it used to receive) is adding to the problem. More practical solidarity between European business and its partners in Ukraine is needed, so that the Ukrainian economy, which has not been destroyed by Russian attacks, is not destroyed by a lack of the European solidarity.

In Kyiv, we are discussing a wide range of issues and joint action plans in Ukraine, in Brussels and in major European capitals. We speak frankly because we know the members of both the Rada and the Government well, so there is no need to waste time on diplomatic niceties. It is obvious that the situation on the front line as everywhere else is difficult, but this does not diminish the determination of the Ukrainian leaders. We need a lot more weapons (the end of the war depends on it!); we need financial support now and regularly, not six months later; we neededed the Special Tribunal for the crimes of aggression already yesterday; we need an understanding in the minds and in the hearts of all the Western leaders that this is not just Ukraine’s war against Russian aggression, but also the West’s war against Russian terrorism – because we hear an open question in one of the offices in Kyiv – do the Westerners really want the West to win the war in the near future? If so, the weapons from the West must be delivered not “according to plan”, but as much as it is needed to achieve victory. Or maybe the West’s plan is to exhaust Russia as long as possible with the war it has started? But how many lives will this cost to Ukraine?

Thus for three days we talked, we communicated and we were trying to find out details about the situation in Ukraine. Now we are back to business. For Ukraine’s sake. United for Ukraine!

Ukraine is returning to Europe, to the West. It is returning through blood, through enormous sacrifices, through war. It is returning as a great national power, as a new, enormous human energy. Ukraine is already shaking the world: waking up the geopolitically lazy West and drowning the Putin regime in the ruins of its own terror and imperial nostalgia.

On the train back to Poland, we stand at the border for several hours. For no reason. Even the bureaucratic Europe must finally open the gates and the barriers to Ukraine. Because it is not only Ukraine that needs this, it is Europe itself that needs this. Not everyone in Europe understands this yet. That’s why we are planning next visits of the U4U network to Paris, Stockholm (Sweden is taking over the rotating Presidency of the European Union at the beginning of next year) and Rome. Then to Washington. In addition, intensive work will be done in Brussels itself. The frontline of the U4U political wars is the Western capitals. And we will win!

In Ukraine, we kept repeating: “Razom do Peremogi!” Together to Victory!!!

Andrius Kubilius. Lutsk, Rivne, Kyiv, Brussels. October 25-28.