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a Ukranian Activist on How the World Is Responding to Russia

  • Ukrainian activist Oleksandra Matviychuk said that a stronger global response is needed towards Russia.
  • “I think that people in the West don’t understand that it’s not about Ukraine,” Matviychuk told Insider.
  • She said that Ukraine is the frontline of the “battle between authoritarianism and values of the free world.”

Oleksandra Matviychuk is the chair of the Center for Civil Liberties, a Ukrainian humanitarian NGO founded in 2007, that is largely focused on implementing and pushing for democratic reforms in the country. 

Since at least 2014, Matviychuk told Insider that the organization has stood directly in Putin’s path and faced consequences. As Russia formalized its occupation of Crimea that year, the organization’s staff was kicked out of areas of Ukraine that increasingly fell under Russian separatist control.

Today, Matviychuk describes life in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, as surreal with people going about their daily lives, but feeling the Kremlin’s stranglehold even more.

On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered troops into Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, recognizing the Donetsk and Luhansk regions as independent people’s republics as opposed to belonging to Ukraine.

In the weeks prior, the Kremlin has mobilized more than 150,000 Russian troops along Ukraine’s borders.


On Tuesday, US President Joe Biden tagged the Kremlin with a new round of sanctions that went further than previous ones imposed in 2014.

Insider spoke to Matviychuk about the realities facing Ukrainians on the ground. The interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

How are you, your colleagues, and loves ones doing right now in Kyiv and in other parts of Ukraine?

For several weeks, we were waiting for the new Russian invasion and yesterday Putin recognized so-called Luhansk, and Donetsk people’s Republics and deploying troops to occupy Donbas. We perceived this as a step towards aggravating the situation, and Ukrainians are ready to fight for our country, for our freedom, for our dignity, if a situation becomes worse.

And, for Ukrainians right now, what, what are the immediate needs that people have on the ground?

If we speak about, on the level of the country, after Putin’s recognition and his exit from the Minsk negotiation, now a lot depends on the West because the reaction of the West will show what will be in future with Ukraine. If the reaction of the collective West will not be on the level of challenge, Putin will attempt to increase pressure on Ukraine in different ways, even militarily.

So for the current moment, we as Ukrainians need a comprehensive and complex strategy from the EU and US towards Putin, to show him that the price of yesterday’s act and future possible acts will be too high for Russia.

Do you find that the EU countries, the West, and the US are applying pressure in that way? How do you gauge the global reaction?

For the EU, the best reaction will be to promise that Ukraine will, in the nearest future, be a member of the EU itself.

It’s symbolical, but very important signal for Ukrainian people. In terms of the new US sanctions, we need to see how effective they are. For sanctions, it’s not a discussion about if this glass of water is half full, or if the glass of water is half empty. The question is, does this glass have enough water to stop Putin?

As the aggression has become more pronounced, what do you see as the main humanitarian and economic needs for Ukrainian people right now?

For the last three weeks, the Ukrainians have suffered economically because of this uncertainty, and because of the threat of invasion, international organizations started to isolate Ukraine. And even since yesterday, Lufthansa stopped flights to Ukraine. So it’s like one sign of what’s going on, how this economical connection has become frozen.

And we in Ukraine have a joke that we don’t understand who is punished in this situation, Russia or Ukraine? And international partners who support the Ukrainian economy in this situation provide a huge input to improve the situation. If the price of gas and oil become higher, Russia could benefit, and sanctions should hit the energy sector too.

On the humanitarian side, we have to be prepared because in the worst scenario, it could result in huge human losses and needs for humanitarian assistance.

What do you think is another development that people should understand about the situation right now for Ukrainians?

I think that people in the West don’t understand that it’s not about Ukraine.

The West must understand the risk of a strong authoritarian threat in the whole OSCE region and Putin yesterday described his vision of the world. And he will impose his vision using even war. So this is not about relations between Russia and Ukraine.

Ukraine in this regard is only a forefront of the battle between authoritarian model and values of the free world. So people who live in Switzerland, in the US, in France, they are also actors in this battle because we live in a very interconnected world and only the spread of freedom makes our world safer.

Yesterday, when Putin stepped away from the Minsk agreement, I received dozens of calls and messages from relatives of hostages of the Donbas. And they were in despair. And they asked me what will be in the future because the only platform for negotiation about the fate of the men and women who were illegally arrested and kept for years in the occupied part of Donbas was discussed only through that agreement. And now they don’t know what will be and how they have a chance to release their beloved ones.

How do you anticipate things playing out in the coming days and weeks? What is the atmosphere like on the ground in Kyiv?

When Putin announced this recognition, a lot of people posted on Facebook that, okay, we are prepared for everything, which will start tomorrow. So it provokes emotional feelings of the majority of Ukrainians, that we have to fight and we have to defend our country.

And before, Putin and the Kremlin tried to hide that they control Donbas, they refused to say that they are part of the war. They always said that we are a mediator, but everybody knows that the so-called Luhansk and Donetsk people republic exist only because of military finance, diplomatic, economical, and other support from Russia.

Decisions are made in Moscow, not Donetsk or Luhansk. But now, people say, that Russia officially stopped hiding. And, at least this is something positive in this situation.

Thank you Oleksandra, I hope you can stay safe.

Well, we will see. 

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