Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 23.06.2018
The Foreign Minister of Lithuania, Linas Linkevičius, has completed a visit to the Luhansk region in Ukraine. While in eastern Ukraine, he went to the village of Katerynivka, which is on the front line where Russian invasion-occupation troops have been attacking Ukrainian defenders and civilians for the past four years. Minister Linkevičius said in a tweet from Luhansk that Lithuania is exploring opportunities for joint projects with local businesses in eastern Ukraine, which are key to improving everyday life for Ukrainians. He also wanted to support the work of Lithuanian non-governmental organizations for their continuous humanitarian help to the people of Ukraine “while they’re resisting [the] aggressor” [meaning Russia].
The Lithuanian foreign minister went right up to the ‘contact line’ where Russia is invading Ukraine. He went to the village of Katerynivka, which is less than 500 metres from Russian fortifications and fire points. Katerynivka was in the “grey zone” between Russian aggressors and Ukrainian defenders, and was liberated in the second half of January this year. It is now safely connected back to free Ukraine.
Linas Linkevičius wrote on Twitter: “My message to the people of Ukraine: Your fight against aggressor is not forgotten. Your struggle for freedom and Euro-Atlantic future of your country is supported. #Lithuania and International Community stand with #Ukraine.” His words have profound resonance because he gave them from the most forward position of a great European nation’s stalwart defence against foreign invasion from Russia.
Minister Linkevičius is a regular visitor to Ukraine. He made another morale-boosting trip to the battlefront in March 2016 when he went to Shyrokyne, a village on the Azov Sea in Donetsk region. Shyrokyne was occupied by the Russian armed forces in 2014, but liberated by the Azov battalion of the Ukrainian armed forces on 10 February 2015. Lithuania’s foreign minister visited Avdiivka on 10 February 2017. Avdiivka is a town directly north of Russian-occupied Donetsk city.
No other political leader from a Western democracy has demonstrated the kind of solidarity with the Ukrainian people that Linas Linkevičius has done. The President of Lithuania, Dalia Grybauskaitė, has always been a firm defender of European ideals against Russian tyranny. Lithuania acts on its principles. For example, Lithuania has delivered ammunition to the Ukrainian armed forces from the start of Russia’s invasion. Lithuania joined the LITPOLUKRBRIG: the Lithuania-Poland-Ukraine Brigade, named after named after Konstanty Ostrogski, which is based in Lublin, Poland.
Other countries that talk a good game about being friends of Ukraine and about standing up to Russian aggression come up short when it comes to putting action behind the words. Canada is a particular disappointment. Much is made about the substantial Ukrainian diaspora in Canada, but this has not translated into action in support of Ukraine that comes anywhere close to the level of Lithuania. Chrystia Freeland has been Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs since January 2017. Minister Freeland has not visited eastern Ukraine once. This is surprising, given that she is of Ukrainian heritage, and has close ties to Ukraine that go back to pre-independence days and the Rukh movement. Canada is absent where it really counts in Ukraine, which is on the battlefront where Ukrainians defend Western values – Canadian values – from the onslaught by Muscovy. Canada is a big country, and could be a big influence for good by standing up against Russian aggression. It is strange and disappointing that Canada’s actions do not match its words. Chrystia Freeland is noticeably absent from Donbas whereas Linas Linkevičius is prominent. Ukrainians take note of the difference between Canadian expressions of “deep concern” and Lithuanian actions such as a morale-boosting visit by their foreign minister to Ukrainian soldiers on the invasion-by-Russia battlefront.
Lithuania is front and centre as an ally of Ukraine. Linas Linkevičius has made the effort to go to the front lines several times to talk to the troops and show support for Ukrainian defenders. Lithuania’s show of support is matched by tangible support: matériel for the Ukrainian armed forces and humanitarian assistance for the people of Donbas. Lithuania is a little country, but it is a mighty friend to Ukraine.