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By Lord Watson of Wyre Forest
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By Veterans Aid

Ukraine has a long road ahead as they bravely rebuild from Russia’s brutal war


4 min read

I recently joined the first United Kingdom parliamentary delegation to Ukraine following the outbreak of war in February.

Despite sporadic air raid alarms, I felt safe in Kyiv, the centre of which looks open and is free for movement. Cafes and shops were buzzing, relatively few uniforms were on show and with the brave hardy Ukrainian people getting on with their lives as best as they can. Despite overall city resident numbers still reduced, steadily people are now returning to rebuild their lives and their country.

The determination to rebuild Ukraine as a proud, free, independent, democratic and western facing modern nation was universal and palpable with the people I met.

Out of this horror and barbarity will develop an immensely strong and lasting relationship between our two countries

Ukraine did not want this war. Its cost in terms of loss of life, devastated economy and smashed infrastructure is huge. But their determination to persevere and rebuild is absolute and only reinforced through the harsh conflict.

If a deal involving peace for land has ever been possible, Ukrainians will now not start to negotiate until all of their land is free from Russia; and that includes Donbas and Crimea. This was the firm view of every politician, soldier and citizen that we had the opportunity to meet.

And one can see why, as the vile outcome of Russian occupation is revealed in territory retaken by the heroic actions of the Ukrainian military. Sadly, the horrors of Bucha are not an horrific isolated incident. Indeed, it is becoming clear that looting, torture, murder, rape and intimidation is the standard practice of the Russian occupiers.

These crimes must never be forgotten nor overlooked, and we were very pleased to hear of how UK prosecutors have been helping local agencies with evidence collection and advice.

We had many meetings with politicians, economists, prosecutors, human rights activist, anti-corruption NGOs and of course the military.

A visit to the presidential palace to meet President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was memorable. The president and his ministers – all dressed in khaki – were focused and determined to succeed in their historic struggle. The famed charisma and can-do attitude of the president was very much on show and impressive. The atmosphere was helped no little by the remarkable military achievements of the first day of the Kharkiv offensive.

Rarely have I seen a smile so broad than that shown by one of the Kharkiv MPs we met. Naturally, she was aching to once again step foot in her previously occupied constituency.

But the battlefield victories also accentuated the size of the challenges yet to be faced.

Militarily speaking, Russia still remains a powerful and vicious threat. Vladimir Putin is an unpredictable enemy, wounded and concerned to protect his Crimea legacy for Russia, and may yet become even less principled over civilian rights.

Retaking occupied territory is one thing, but holding it is another. Police, courts, schools and civil society all have to be re-established. War crimes and collaborators have to be investigated for prosecution. Infrastructure has to be rebuilt. The cost and administrative challenges involved are enormous and urgent.

The military requirements are changing. In the early days of the war basic equipment for soldiers and defensive weapons, such as anti-tank missiles, were a priority. Then longer-range artillery to break down Russian defences were and still are required to enable offensive operations. But now, following reoccupation, the priorities changed again and the need for anti-missile defence systems has come to the fore.

If Ukraine is going to encourage its over 10 million internally displaced citizens and millions of foreign based refugees to return to their homes in Ukraine, then security from air attack becomes key to restoring confidence.

So, the challenges are immense but Ukrainian recognition of British support and gratitude was expressed by everyone we met. Ukrainians feel that the UK is in this battle with them for the long term and that we were the first to speak up for them in the international community.

I was left with the strong impression that out of this war, out of this horror and barbarity will develop an immensely strong and lasting relationship between our two countries.


Jonathan Djanogly, Conservative MP for Huntingdon and deputy chair of the APPG on Ukraine.

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