International 21/03/2022

Roman Hryshchuk: "Europe has turned a blind eye to Putin"

5 min
Roman Hryshchuk, Member of the Ukrainian Parliament

LondonRoman Hryshchuk, 32, is in a basement in Kyiv, protected against a possible attack, as he speaks to ARA by video conference. He is a member of the Rada, the Ukrainian parliament, for one of the capital's ten districts. He is in the same party as Volodymyr Zelensky, Servant of the People, which takes its name from the TV political satire that starred the now president before he made the leap into politics and became the character of the year and perhaps the decade. Hours before the online meeting, Roman Hryshchuk was awoken by the impact of a missile very close to his home.

How are you? How are you feeling?

— Quite well, because my family is safe. My wife and son are in Western Europe.

Where are you?

— In Kyiv. I haven't moved. I am a member of Parliament, elected by one of the city's districts, and therefore I have to be here with my people. The situation is very difficult, of course. Kyiv has been attacked every day for the last five days. Not like Kharkiv or Mariupol, but missiles have also fallen every day on our residential buildings. Today I woke up to a rocket falling very close. But many more Ukrainians, in Mariupol, Kherson, Kharkiv or Sumy, are suffering much more. These are places where huge humanitarian catastrophes are taking place as a result of continuous 24-hour attacks.

Are you ready to fight? Have you had military training?

— Of course, I have taken my Kalashnikov, but honestly, I don't even know how to use it. Everyone has to be in the place where they are the most effective. And as a member of Parliament, maybe I'm more effective here, making all kinds of diplomatic contacts and talking to the press, rather than being part of the territorial defence. We'll see what happens later on.

Can you remember what life was like before the war after three weeks of constant fighting and bombing?

— Watch out there, make no mistake. We have been at war since 2014. It is very important to understand this. The war did not start on February 24, 2022. The war started with the annexation of Crimea and the war in the Donbass. On February 24, Russia and Putin launched the new dimension of a full-scale war.

What do you think life will be like when the war is over? How do you imagine peace?

— We are very optimistic: 92% of Ukrainians believe we will win this war. Maybe it won't be a matter of a week or two, maybe it will be a year, but we will win, because the truth is on our side.

The truth might be, but NATO is not. At least it is not directly involved.

— No, but everyone understands that Russia is a terrorist state. We have hope and we believe in victory. Obviously, all this will be very difficult. I work in the parliamentary committee on education and science and innovation. And we have counted that 463 buildings used for education, from kindergartens to universities, which have been destroyed. And a large part of school-age children have had to leave Ukraine. It will be very hard to rebuild the country, to rebuild our economy, but when we win, I think it will be easier to make Ukraine a better country.

Image of one of the attacks against Kyiv this Friday taken by the security camera of the building where Roman Hryshchuk lives

It sounds like wishful thinking rather than reality.

— I really believe it. And, of course, I understand the pile of problems before us. But now, even Zelensky's opponents support him. Our whole country is united behind the president. Even the most pro-Russian cities, even the country's second largest pro-Russian political party [Platform for Opposition] has taken part in the defence of the country. We won this war on the first or second day, when Zelensky refused to flee and decided that he would stay in Kyiv and fight. It was a crucial decision.

Do Western countries, the European Union and NATO have any responsibility for the conflict to the extent that they failed to prevent it

— First of all, I want to be very grateful for Europe's generosity. The whole of Europe has done a lot and is doing a lot for us...

But what about the politicians, have they done enough to prevent the war?

— Depending on the countries, some make me sad. Yesterday [Thursday], when President Zelensky addressed the Bundestag, he said it very clearly. He was very critical. He explained that over the years he had asked for support and we had not had much. And, although Europe has done and is doing a lot, it is not enough.

Do you understand that NATO does not want to get involved because of the risk of a Third World War?

— Yes, but 70% of Ukrainians want to join NATO. It is written into our constitution. In any case, we know that NATO's doors are closed to us for the moment. Therefore, what we want is to establish other security guarantees with Poland, with the Baltic countries, the United Kingdom... With new structures... We will see.

Is the applause that President Zelensky receives from all the parliaments where he speaks a noise to appease the consciences of all those who do not or have not done enough to stop Putin?

— It is one thing to applaud and another to applaud and do effective things. Politically, the risk of dealing with Putin has not been understood. Europe has turned a blind eye. Europe lives according to rules, but Putin acts without respecting them. Every day Russia commits war crimes, kills civilians who have been evacuated, kills children... Putin works differently. I was very saddened when Olaf Scholz, the German Chancellor, said that this is only Putin's war, not Russia's war. Not at all. He is wrong. Most Russians agree with the war. Russians believe that Putin is doing the best for their country, that Putin is protecting Russia with this war. And this is what a great many people think.

Some people are protesting, like that Channel 1 journalist.

— I don't believe her. She has worked for eight years in the Kremlin's propaganda. Imagine a pilot bombing our cities and then saying "oh, yes, sorry, it was a mistake". No. Bombs kill people and information, or disinformation, kills as well as soldiers do. This journalist has become very popular with the Western media and, for now, has paid a $300 fine. But, in the end, she is playing along with Putin's propaganda. Because she is saying that it is Putin, not the Russians, who support the war. This is not true. Her action was a message to the West. It has had no effect on Russia. The message was written in English...

You have said that the whole country is behind Zelensky. But perhaps, in the near future, the president will have to sit down with Putin and come to an agreement. Will Ukrainians understand this after all the destruction and deaths caused?

— It's a big problem, yes. Ideally, we believe that we will win the war, Putin will fall and Russia will be a non-aggressor. But, of course, an agreement will not fit this image and what we have to do is to stop the death of civilians and stop the war and destruction. That's the real world. And it is very difficult for me to comment on what could be the peace agreement and what is the most correct. And this is dangerous, because Russia can use the agreement against us, to divide us, to divide our society and divide our country from all points of view: linguistically, politically, socially, territorially.

Can you forgive Vladimir Putin?

— No, we cannot forgive him. He is a war criminal, a terrorist.

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