UKRAINE CHARGE D’AFFAIRES DENYS MYKHAILIUK
Only the dead have seen the end of war,” said philosopher George Santayana. More than a year and a half after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, more than 60,000 people have died. Aside from deaths, at least 15,000 people have been declared missing and around 17 million have been displaced. And the end of a nine-year-long conflict, that which only the dead have "seen," is nowhere within sight for the 31 million Ukrainians.
For centuries, wars have been fought, rationalized by a plethora of reasons—justified or otherwise. Debate aside, the Russo-Ukrainian War is not just a concept and it affects millions of lives—real people whose day-to-day realities may be irrevocably changed. Ukrainian Chargé d'Affaires Denys Mykhailiuk is currently based in Malaysia with his immediate family. His mother and siblings, however, remain in Ukraine alongside millions of displaced people
“[My family] doesn’t sleep at night while they hear the sirens. They feel that this is the new normal, which is not,” Mykhailiuk reveals, mentioning the air raid sirens that warn the people of an imminent missile attack so they can seek shelter.
Ukraine has been entrenched in a conflict that has tested its resilience, strength, and unity in the face of what seem to be insurmountable challenges. Despite the terror caused by the ongoing war in Ukraine, the people have shown a lot of courage, determination, and hope as they try to survive the war.
“If you believe in something and even if you have no resources now, you will get them and you achieve this goal. We will [win],” Mykhailiuk confidently stresses.
Mykhailiuk made his second visit to the Philippines in June 2023. In a press briefing in Manila, he appeals to the media for help by exposing the destruction caused by the collapse of the Nova Kakhovka dam, one of Europe’s worst economic and environmental disasters in recent years. The disaster wrecked entire cities, flooded farmland, cut off electricity and potable water to tens of thousands of people, and caused major environmental damage. At least 14 people were killed and thousands were evacuated. Grain produced in the impacted area is the primary food source for the people of Northern Africa.
“If this grain is not produced and does not come to the market, there will be a rise in prices. There will be hunger. There will be millions of refugees once more. Maybe the main idea of the Russian occupiers was fear. They didn’t care at all about what would happen to this land or what would happen to the planet,” Mykhailiuk adds, underscoring the magnitude of the disaster. Reports remain unclear whether the dam was purposefully attacked by Russian troops or if the collapse was caused by a structural breakdown. Mykhailiuk, however, is convinced that the dam was blown up. He explains that the confusion is due to Russian propaganda machines that are effective at creating fake news.
“[Russian media] uses its best practices, a copycat of the Nazis in Germany but on a technological level. The Nazis used newspapers and cinemas. Russians are using television and the internet. The [Russians] can lie to themselves 24/7, but the truth will always prevail. [Ukrainians] are in a better position than the Russians in this aspect because we tell people the truth,” says Mykhailiuk.
The diplomatic representative adds that they were shocked that no international organization responded immediately to the flooding caused by the collapsed dam. Thousands of Ukrainians were evacuated and need potable drinking water. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on the international organizations and governments of other countries to condemn what they said was a military crime.
Although some of their partners offered help, they did not dispatch rescue teams. Mykhailiuk said that international organizations do not want to send staff and personnel to help because they too do not want to endanger more lives since the area affected is an immediate war zone.
“If you believe in something and even if you have no resources now, you will get them and you will achieve this goal. We will [win].
We are much stronger than we were a year and a half ago, and we’re getting a lot of support machinery and sophisticated armaments from our partners all over the world.
“[Ukrainians] feel grief, sorrow, and pain. But we already know that we should do whatever we need to anyway. And it doesn’t matter if anyone is helping us or not. We want to achieve our goal of defeating the enemy and reconstructing our country,” says Mykhailiuk, thanking those who are standing shoulder to shoulder with them.
Exemplifying Ukrainians’ unyielding tenacity and unwavering optimism, he asserts that Russia’s claims to occupied territories are nothing more than declarations and were never truly captured. However, indiscriminate killings, tortures, rapes, and destruction haunt the people in the territories physically occupied by Russia. Despite the terror, the people have not renounced their identities as Ukrainians and the country is not yielding its sovereignty.
STRENGTH FROM FRIENDS
Despite the Russo-Ukrainian War being one of the bloodiest wars since World War II, the diplomat assures that the Ukrainians are optimistic that they will be victorious. If anything, Russia has not achieved its political and military objectives—despite the Kremlin’s predictions that it will be a “quick triumph.” Ukraine is confident that it will regain control of its territories, although it may take time.
Mykhailiuk reveals, “We are much stronger than we were a year and a half ago, and we’re getting a lot of support machinery and sophisticated armaments from our partners all over the world.”
“We are grateful to the nations that have been providing aid, especially when we need it. I can tell who our best friends are.”
The diplomat reveals several examples, such as Estonia. For a country with a population of only 1.3 million, it was heartwarming when they provided Ukraine with military equipment that costs half of their military budget. Another small country, East Timor, sent USD1.5 million which they gathered from Ukrainians living in Hawaii.
Over a million Ukrainians fled to Poland and the refugees were welcomed by the Polish families—proving the deep connection between the two countries that stems from centuries’ worth of history. In addition, they’re also one of the biggest suppliers of ammunition and Soviet-style military equipment to Ukraine since the onset of the war.
Mykhailiuk also acknowledged the United States (US)— which has sent financial aid of roughly US$76 billion thus far, providing military and humanitarian support—and the United Kingdom (UK), as the first nation to provide Ukraine with long-range cruise missiles.
He also took note of the assistance of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Spain, Denmark, Germany, Portugal, and the Netherlands.
Earlier this year, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met with the Group of Seven (G7) leaders during their summit in Hiroshima, Japan. The intergovernmental political group consists of the US, UK, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, and Japan. The G7 declared their full support for Ukraine, stating that they would provide security and economic assistance, modern military equipment, and impose sanctions on Russia.
Russia is a former member of the G7 (then named G8) having been added in 1997. However, it was suspended indefinitely in March 2014 following its invasion and annexation of the Crimea Peninsula from Ukraine.
These, Mykhailiuk reveals, are just some of the support they have been receiving from the 57 nations that are helping them through military, financial, and humanitarian means. Some of these are also offering refuge to those who have fled Ukraine.
With the help of so many countries, Ukraine is certain that winning the war is an inevitability and that they will rebuild. While the timeline for the war’s end is uncertain, restoration efforts have already begun. Referred to as the “Fast Recovery Plan,” it involves categorizing the nation into three parts: the economy, battle-affected areas, and the battle-supportive areas. Important facilities like the army’s transportation, sewage systems, water supply, and electricity were repaired and reconstructed.
To boost the economy right away, they relocated enterprises to the biggest part of the country. As one of the world’s leading producers of corn, wheat, and sunflower oil, agriculture is determined to be the recovery engine as it will yield investment returns faster than other industries. Mykhailiuk also claims that the sector did not suffer because production continued despite the war.
Human resources, particularly in information technology (IT), are the second engine of support that will help the economy recover. In 2019, Ukraine created the Ministry of Digital Transformation with the goal to digitalize the government. Their services have to be 100% available online, encouraging millions of Ukrainians to participate in digital skills development programs, and widening the coverage of high-speed internet.
Their digital transformation efforts were lauded by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and Ukraine was dubbed a “digital tiger” during the 2022 World Economic Forum summit in Davos, Switzerland.
Mykhailiuk adds that Ukraine is one of the world’s top exporters of military technology and equipment. Once the war is finished, they are looking to concentrate on electronic warfare as a way to attract foreign investors and boost the country’s economy.
HOPE FOR STRONGER BONDS AND COLLABORATION
The diplomat shares that they consider the Philippines as one of their strongest allies in the Southeast Asia region and expresses their appreciation for our country’s condemnation of the atrocities and support for their cause. Mykhailiuk urges other nations in the region to strengthen their support by joining international sanctions against Russia, which attempts to violate international laws.
“We very much depend on our victory. If we win and the aggressor is punished, it will make life easier [for everyone]. It’s not [merely] an act of courage. It’s an act of humanity. To support Ukraine now, you do not need to be brave. You need to be human,” Mykhailiuk says.
To this end, he is optimistic about establishing ties within the region, not just with the Philippines. Establishing as many ties as possible will benefit both countries in terms of travel, commerce, education, and more.
With their efficient IT system, Mykhailiuk shares that they are looking to provide technological solutions to our country’s pressing bureaucratic issues. They are also collaborating with the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to allow Filipinos to use electronic visas (e-visas) and initiate a student exchange program.
OVERCOMING OBSTACLES AND SPREADING HOPE
Working together and forging a partnership between our two nations, the diplomat adds, is more than possible because of our common cultural traits. “We are both optimistic, generous, independent, and joyous [people]. I feel this spirit of life all around [when I visit the Philippines]. It would be nice to be back at home, but it’s nice to feel this familiar welcoming spirit here,” Mykhailiuk shares.
He adds that if they were to open an embassy in the Philippines, he would apply for a position right away. Aside from the warm personalities of the people, he also finds the country beautiful, especially the diving spots. One of the perks of the job as a diplomat is finding yourself in exotic, faraway lands that offer a different culture and experience.
Mykhailiuk admits that he never imagined himself in this job, but is grateful for the opportunity to make a difference. While he is not on the frontlines, his work as a diplomat, securing partnerships and connections, is undoubtedly vital to saving the troops that are in the war zones. Even the tiniest victories that secure alliances will help save the lives of their soldiers and civilians.
In his parting words, Mykhailiuk encourages the people to stand with Ukraine. “Because supporting Ukraine is supporting freedom. Supporting rules; supporting safety. To support Ukraine is to support your future.”