The Guest Blog

Guest blog post by Mark Demesmaeker, MEP, European Conservatives and Reformists.

A wave of politically motivated persecution has swept the territory of Eastern Ukraine and Crimea. Yet it barely makes it on to our television screens. The methods being deployed by Russian special services are inhuman, using “state terrorism” against civilians. We owe it to Ukrainians to keep their stories in the media, and to show younger Ukrainians who yearn for change that we are standing with them.

In the European Parliament, we sought to tell the stories of victims of Russian war crimes in Eastern Ukraine. One of the victims who came to a hearing we organised in the European Parliament was Irina Dovgan. She told us her story: “Russian soldiers arrived in my house, and took all my things… They took me away to interrogate me…They were drunk and cruel… They wanted me to give them names of the people who helped me… They took me to a room… I lost orientation… They were shooting next to my ear… They humiliated me, and called me a fascist… I begged them to kill me… I told them names. It was terrible. I realized I had let them down… They bound me to a pole with a sign on me which said “I kill children”… People beat me, and spat on me. Everyone laughed. A freelance photographer took a picture of me by the pole, and it ended up in the New York Times. It saved my life”.

In the ECR Group in the European Parliament we continue to say, ‘don’t forget about Ukraine.’ The conference on Russian hostages co-hosted with my Polish MEP colleague Anna Fotyga and the Open Dialog Foundation and Center for Civil Liberties was just one way of ensuring this. However, we should not just highlight the crimes being committed by Russia, but also ask how we can help the people of Ukraine? The younger generations are a good place to start. They have a new hope for Ukraine.

The Danish TV program, Horisont, visited a small Ukrainian village, Podilske, for some insight into the everyday lives of Ukrainians. Artjom Kukharenko, a 22-year old man, has become mayor in the village. He wants change. He wants democracy. He has hope.

Artjom is about to put up street lighting in the village, so he walks around town to ask the locals for advice on where to put the lamps. Artjom believes in keeping his electors involved and engaged with public meetings, and even votes. He enjoys strong support in the village because they see him as a visionary who genuinely wants to improve their conditions.

Other Ukrainians might not be fighting for change in the same way as Artjom, but they are defending their country. The same group of Danish journalists visited them on the frontier. Platoon leader, Dmitrij Gozenko, said: “The war is good business for everyone, except us…we want to close the border to the rebellions and stop dealing with them.”

Among too many young people there is a feeling that the Maidan protests did not bring about many results. The unpopular Prime Minister, Arsenij Jatsenjuk, was forced to resign and government ministers are not leading from the front on reform. Demonstrations take place every day in Ukraine against the justice system, which is currently the biggest challenge to democracy. Corruption still exists at all levels! The anti-corruption bureau in Ukraine recently caught a judge and charged him for bribery and violence against officials.

Despite fighting for his country, Gozenko has little faith in its leaders: “The law does not mean anything. Corruption is the worse part. Officials are not use to being punished”.

Unfortunately, Gozenko will not get to see change in Ukraine. He was hit by a grenade a few days after the film crew left. His only wish was that his two sons would never become caught up in the conflict.

The only way to achieve that is to support people like Artjom Kukharenko and the other visionary young leaders of Ukraine who are rising out of the ruins of conflict and dreaming of a democratic and better future for their country.

Whether it’s young leaders, people being brutalized, or people taking up arms to defend their frontier, Europe must not ignore the story of these brave Ukrainians. If we give up on them, there’s a chance they will give up on us, and their dreams of a better future in the West.

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