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‘The era of neutrality is over, as well as the era of peace in Europe,’ Ukraine’s foreign minister says

Foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba urges refugees to consider returning home to help war effort

The threat posed by a “revanchist and imperial” Kremlin means that “the era of neutrality is over, as well as the era of peace in Europe,” but Ukraine will defeat Russia if its Western allies provide the weapons it needs, Kyiv’s foreign minister has said.

As Ukraine marked two years since Russia launched its full-scale invasion, Dmytro Kuleba recalled how some western colleagues thought his country would fall “in a matter of days”, and he urged Ukrainian refugees to consider returning home to help the war effort.

Ukraine has lost 31,000 soldiers and tens of thousands of civilians since all-out war began on February 24th 2022, its president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Sunday, after welcoming several Western leaders to Kyiv and hearing expressions of support from many others as the country marked the grim milestone during a difficult period on the battlefield.

Moscow’s forces took the ruined eastern town of Avdiivka this month in their first notable gain since last May, and Ukraine is facing what Kuleba calls “acute shortages” of artillery shells, due largely to the refusal of Republicans in the US Congress to approve more military aid for Kyiv. Russia is expected to continue attacks ahead of presidential elections on March 15-17th that will inevitably extend the 24-year rule of its president, Vladimir Putin.


The first 48 to 72 hours were critical. That was the time when the world was mostly watching. Heavily wounded and bleeding, Ukraine managed to survive the attack and remain standing

—  Dmytro Kuleba

“It’s up to every nation to decide what serves its security interests best. Personally, I think that the era of neutrality is over, as well as the era of peace in Europe,” Kuleba told The Irish Times.

“This sad reality is the result of a new revanchist and imperial force in the east of our continent, that is Putin’s dictatorship. Needless to say, Moscow’s imperial appetites are not limited to Ukraine. And the best way to ensure Europe’s long-term security right now is to provide Ukrainian soldiers with everything they need to prevail and stop Russia on Ukrainian soil,” he says.

“With sufficient and timely assistance, Ukraine will be able to put an end to Russian aggression and avert a larger war in Europe.”

European Union states pledged last year to send one million artillery shells to Ukraine by this March, but they have only managed to deliver about half that number. The Irish Government has given Kyiv €122 million in non-lethal military supplies such as body armour and medical kit, but the State’s military neutrality rules out provision of weapons.

“Europe must be able to defend itself and have sufficient industrial capacities both to assist Ukraine and to replenish its own stocks. For this to happen, a common European defence industry space must be created,” Kuleba says.

“All red tape must be removed. All arms export contracts need to be redirected back to Europe and to Ukrainian soldiers who are now the defenders of Europe … every round of artillery ammunition produced in Europe must serve the purpose of defending Europe.”

As Russia overran its neighbour’s borders two years ago with hundreds of thousands of soldiers backed by fighter jets, tanks, attack helicopters and missile systems, few people outside Ukraine – including some top Western diplomats - believed it could hold out for long.

“Some colleagues were unwilling to take resolute action in support of Ukraine because they were confident that the whole thing will be over in a matter of days and it’s better to simply wait until this happens,” Kuleba recalls.

“It’s not simply because they didn’t want to believe in Ukraine. I think most of them relied on intelligence data that was merely comparing numbers … In fact, this war has proven that numbers are not everything. One cannot calculate the courage, resilience, and ingenuity of people, as well as their willingness to fight for their country’s freedom and independence.”

As Moscow’s forces poured in from the north, east and south, targeting Kyiv and other key cities, small units of Ukrainian troops used Western-supplied anti-tank missiles to wreak havoc in slow-moving columns of Russian armour, and thousands of volunteers were given guns as territorial defence groups sprang into action around the country.

“The first 48 to 72 hours were critical. That was the time when the world was mostly watching. Heavily wounded and bleeding, Ukraine managed to survive the attack and remain standing,” Kuleba says. “That was when the world realised that Russia’s blitzkrieg failed and the only right way is to support Ukraine.”

The invasion prompted the biggest displacement of people in Europe since the second World War, in which about four million Ukrainians were displaced within the country and six million fled abroad, most of them to the European Union.

Ukraine is “deeply grateful to Ireland and all its people” for giving refuge to more than 100,000 of those people and tens of million euro in humanitarian aid, Kuleba says.

“We will always remember this overwhelming Irish solidarity. We are also extremely grateful for all the political, humanitarian, and other types of support provided by the Irish government to Ukraine.”

Most men are barred from leaving the country under martial law but tens of thousands are thought to have done so, using loopholes and flaws in a conscription system that is notoriously corrupt.

The population drain makes it harder for Ukraine to replenish its military ranks and maintain its economy, while holding back a much larger enemy that appears to have a steady flow of recruits from its poorest regions and is moving its industry to a war footing.

“We respect the individual choice of every person, but we also encourage all Ukrainians who have left the country since the beginning of the full-scale invasion to consider the option of returning home,” Kuleba says.

“We understand that some people might not have such a choice because of health or other private issues. But those who have a choice are welcome to come back and help Ukraine fight and survive with their direct personal contribution.”

Russia remains convinced that it will grind down its smaller neighbour and Western support for Kyiv will eventually crumble.

Kuleba points out that Ukrainians claimed their independence in 1991 having survived centuries of rule by imperial powers, the carnage of two world wars, the devastating 1932-3 Holodomor famine caused by Stalin’s policies, Soviet repression of their national identity and the world’s worst nuclear accident at Chernobyl in 1986.

“Does anyone really think that a nation that has survived all of this will simply raise its hands and allow Russian invaders to take over our land, kill our people, loot our homes, rape women, and establish their dictatorship on our land? No way,” he says.

“People are certainly very tired … but being tired does not mean that we are prepared to give up. On the contrary. Ukrainians know too well from their past that the price of freedom is high, but the price of unfreedom and occupation is much, much higher,” Kuleba adds.

“They want to kill us and eliminate the Ukrainian nation as such. Even their dictator is constantly publicly denying Ukraine’s right to exist as a sovereign nation. We have no other choice than to fight for our right to live and be Ukrainians, to restore our territorial integrity and just peace.”

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