Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 03.04.2018
Ukraine is the bravest ally of the United Kingdom. When Britain was attacked by Russia and Western democracies were called upon to show unity and support, Ukraine did not hesitate. Ukrainians stepped up, even though they knew that Russia would retaliate directly and violently against them – the sole fighting defenders of Europe from Putin’s invasion.
Russia attacked in the UK with a nerve agent. Ukraine expelled 13 spies who were acting under diplomatic cover. After the United States and the UK itself, Ukraine sent the greatest number of Russian spies packing. Ukraine is a leading Western democracy taking action against Russia’s intelligence operations. But because Russia is at war with Ukraine, and has been invading Ukrainian territory for over four years, the Russians chose to retaliate against Ukraine so as to cause the most suffering.
Russia forced 13 Ukrainian diplomats to leave the Russian Federation. These diplomats have been providing life-saving consular assistance to Ukrainian hostages of the Putin regime of state terror. Now there are fewer of them, and the isolations will increase for the dozens and dozens of political prisoners, Ukrainian loyalists, Crimean Tatars, and others caught up in Putin’s madness. Oleg Sentsov, Roman Sushenko, Pavlo Hryb, and other hostages have been denied consular assistance, legal representation, and visits from representatives. The Putin regime uses a number of tricks, such as shuffling hostages from one place of detention to another without announcement, holding secret hearings, and simply refusing to acknowledge communications.
Volodymyr Balukh is now in the 16th day of a hunger strike against the unjust ‘sentence’ passed by an illegal court in Russian-occupied Ukrainian Crimea. On April 2, it was reported that Volodymyr Balukh was beaten by an escort. His captors are also denying him water, saying he is on a hunger strike. On March 28, the Ukrainian government demanded Volodymyr Balukh’s immediate release, and for him to be seen by a Ukrainian doctor. The Russian occupation authorities have ignored these requests.
Russia has sent the 75th convoy of weapons, ammunition and matériel to its invasion-occupation army in Donbas. No Western government protested this act of war by Russia. Fuelled by limitless supplies, Putin’s army has been attacking Europe’s defenders all along the battlefront in Luhansk and Donetsk regions inside Ukraine.
Russia attacked in Salisbury, England on March 4. Just under three weeks later, Russian armed forces began a heavy campaign of assaults and bombardments against Ukrainian armed forces that are defending eastern Ukraine. From March 24 to April 2 inclusive, Russia violated the Minsk Agreement ceasefire on 348 separate occasions. No Western government protested these acts of war by Russia.
An “all-for-all” prisoner exchange is another requirement of the Minsk Agreement which Russia violates. A large part of Russia’s propaganda campaign against the West is devoted to presenting Putin’s war against Ukraine in Crimea as different from Putin’s war against Ukraine in Donbas. Some Western politicians and journalists, out of ignorance or pro-Russian sympathies, present Crimea as having been ‘annexed’ and Donbas as having ‘pro-Russian separatists.’ This Kremlin lie serves as an excuse for Putin not to carry out a complete prisoner swap. The Putin regime of state terror will allow its hostages in Russian-occupied Ukrainian Crimea or its hostages in the Russian Federation to be considered for the prisoner exchange. Ukraine, for its part, has offered to exchange Russian citizens who are serving sentences in Ukrainian prisons, having been convicted of offences such as terrorism and making war against Ukraine. Russia, though, appears immovable, and will not consider exchanging the filmmaker Senstov, the journalist Sushchenko, the student Hyrb, the farmer Balukh, or any of the more than 60 hostages who are considered political prisoners.
Ukraine has been the sole fighting defender of Europe, stopping Russian aggression, for over four years. There have been no meaningful or effective acts of solidarity by other Western democracies to fight alongside Ukraine. But when Britain appealed for unity and support, Ukrainian people proved to be the most courageous allies of the British people – even though Ukraine is not in NATO. Ukrainians have paid a terrible price, in the suffering of hostages of Russia an in the suffering of the defenders on the battlefront who are facing Russia at war with the West.