Photo: Svitlana Zalishchuk
Svitlana Zalishchuk gave a lecture marking 25 years of diplomatic relations between the UK and Ukraine
23 January 2017
On 23 January 2017, in the Macmillan Room at Portcullis House, Sir Gerald Howarth MP and Svitlana Zalishchuk MP, Chair and Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Ukraine and the United Kingdom respectively, spoke to commemorate 25 years of diplomatic relations between the UK and Ukraine, and 25 years since the establishment of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Ukraine. Both commented on the Parliamentary dimension of diplomatic relations.
Sir Gerald introduced Svitlana and thanked the Ukrainian Ambassador for her presence and consistent support. He also thanked the event’s sponsors, James Butterwick Fine Arts and Sayenko Kharenko.
Before handing over to Svitlana, Sir Gerald explained that the APPG on Ukraine is doing a number of things to ensure that Ukraine remains on the agenda in the UK, that Parliament is made aware of the challenges faced by Ukraine and the importance of Ukraine, not just to the region but to the wider international community. This is done in a number of ways including through joint meetings with the British Ukrainian Society, visits by APPG members to Ukraine and of Ukrainian MPs to the UK, and there have also been members of the Verkhovna Rada shadowing British MPs. “That has been a very interesting and useful activity”, Sir Gerald said. “We are, I think, having an impact.”
Sir Gerald reminded the audience that Secretary of State for Defence, Sir Michael Fallon had been in Ukraine over the weekend where Sir Michael said, “The values of freedom and democracy cannot be traded. Britain is stepping up on the global stage and standing firm with our Ukrainian friends. The UK is sending a clear message that we are committed to defending democracy across the world and support Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.” British troops have trained around 5,000 members of the Ukrainian forces in military skills including battlefield medicine and infantry tactics, and the Secretary of State has announced that a British Type 45 destroyer, unquestionably the most able air defence ship in the world, is going to visit the Black Sea port of Odessa this summer, the first visit of a British warship since 2008.
Svitlana began by reading official letter on behalf of Andriy Parubiy, Speaker of the Ukrainian Parliament:
Excellencies, honourable members of the United Kingdom Parliament!
On behalf of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, accept my sincere congratulations on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Ukraine and UK, as well as 25 years since the establishment of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Ukraine.
During this period, our countries have made major efforts for comprehensive expansion and deepening of mutually beneficial cooperation, having come to a high level of collaboration within international organisations.
Since the illegal annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation and the launch of the military aggression in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, Ukraine has been going through very difficult times. Your profound commitment to the support of our territorial integrity has always been deeply appreciated by the Parliament of Ukraine, as well as the Ukrainian society.
As the Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, I would like to assure you of my deep commitment and strong adherence to further intensification of cooperation between Ukraine and the United Kingdom.
Through all these 25 years of this productive and mutually beneficial partnership, the UK has proven to be one of the most consistent and strong allies of Ukraine in Europe. Thus I express my sincere gratitude to the members of the UK Parliament, government officials, diplomats and public figures who have made their contribution to the intensification of relations between our two countries.
I wish you, dear colleagues, good health, happiness and success in your state activity as well as peace, happiness and prosperity to the friendly people of the United Kingdom.
Svitlana began by harking back to the collapse of the Soviet Union, noting that more than 90% of Ukrainians voted for independence. The idea of Soviet influence permeated her speech as she tied Ukraine’s current struggle to Russian ambition to build a new empire, a taking on of the Soviet mantle, and noted that Ukraine is fighting on a second front against the old system and corrupt institutions that are a remnant of Soviet times. Both fights are an attempt to break with a Soviet mentality, a change that has to take place in Ukrainian minds, culture and institutions. The two battles are related – the war in the Donbass makes it very difficult to implement reforms in the rest of Ukraine yet without reforms, it is impossible to win the war with Russia. Putin’s aim is not just to control Ukraine’s two eastern regions, but to make the European idea fail in Ukraine because Ukraine’s success is a direct threat to his power. The reunion of Ukrainian territory in the longer term will be based on the people’s wish to live a better life in a free and democratic country. It’s up to the current government to ensure a better life is achievable for all Ukrainians in all parts of the country.
There are big challenges that make this difficult: the economic crisis, a growing humanitarian situation with 1.6 million people internally displaced from Donetsk and Luhansk, the illegal annexation of Crimea which has seen Ukraine lose territory equal to half the size of Estonia, two regions larger than Lower Saxony occupied by pro-Russian separatists and Crimean Tatars living under a politically, economically, religiously and socially repressive system where 300,000 indigenous people have been deported. Nevertheless, Ukraine needs to move forward, for “the hybrid war cannot be finished with a hybrid peace. The economic crisis cannot be overcome by hybrid reforms.” Changes need to be fast, comprehensive and radical as the Ukrainian government is under pressure to realise reforms and deliver on their promises.
Speaking of her personal experiences, Svitlana recalled her activist days when she was agitating for the government, formed after the Orange Revolution, to adopt various reforms and was drafting laws on access to public information and the establishment of a public broadcasting system. Now she herself is in a position to vote on these matters. She noted that over the last three years Parliament has managed to adopt a number of reforms in the judicial and public spheres and that whilst there’s a gap between the legislation and its implementation, there have been tangible victories with the creation of the anti-corruption bureau (NABU) and the electronic declaration system. There have also been significant reforms within the judicial sphere, the police force and to public procurement. The rotten system of the old political elite is weakening since the protests on Euromaidan have brought a new generation into government and parliament. Civil society is active and able to keep the government accountable and move the country forward.
Svitlana gave her thoughts on the future of Ukraine in 2017, a year which started with the inauguration of a new US president, and will be followed by a number of key European elections and the formal triggering of Brexit. These events have led her to conclude that the world no longer has a common understanding of the future. Previously this common vision was an impetus for integration that led to the creation of bodies such as the EU, the UN, the Council of Europe and NATO which were put in place to protect human values and create security after the end of WWII. Events in the US and Europe will influence the whole world and in particular the trajectory of Europe’s development. She questions whether the thirst for power will begin to erode previously-held values in geopolitics.
However, Ukraine has felt strong support from the UK over the last three years, and hopes that the UK will continue to fight their corner and will not trade off Ukraine’s interests. Svitlana suggested that Mr Poroshenko may visit the UK in the coming year, and that Theresa May could perhaps also visit Ukraine. Svitlana’s biggest hope is that sanctions against Russia will not be dropped, and that the UN, the Council of Europe and OSCE will continue to show support for Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians living in Crimea under Russian occupation. There is a worry that Brexit and other events in Europe will distract from Ukraine, but there is still hope that Ukraine’s democratic partners will manage to show that values cannot be traded off.
Svitlana Zalishchuk’s profile
Svitlana Zalishchuk has been a Member of the Verkhovna Rada since October 2014. She is Co-Chair of All-Party Parliamentary Group on the United Kingdom, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and Head of the Sub-Committee on European and Euro-Atlantic Relations.
Svitlana began her professional career as a journalist. She was press secretary to Oleh Rybachuk, then Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine on European Integration during Yulia Tymoshenko’s first term as Prime Minister of Ukraine. She was an active leader of the EuroMaidan movement in 2013. Her organization, Centre UA, coordinated the biggest Facebook Page (EuroMaidan) in Ukrainian history, which played a critical role in the Revolution of Dignity.
Svitlana is a member of the “DemAlliance” political party.