It is cold on the underground platform of this Line 2 station in Kharkiv. But here in north-eastern Ukraine, this place many metres below the surface, far from daylight, is where schoolchildren spend most of their days. That’s because the metro station is the safest place in a city that is bombarded daily by Russian rockets and drones, which no air defence can stop because Kharkiv is simply too close to the Russian border. The platform is the safest place for English lessons.
Anxiety and the cold have been the defining features of these children’s school days for almost 22 months. And they continue to be so, even now, as some in Europe are increasingly citing “fatigue” and starting to ask if we haven’t already provided enough support to Ukraine. Some are arguing that the Russian war of aggression could be “frozen”. The idea of a war “freezing” sounds a bit technical, almost sterile. As if it would bring the peace of wintertime, the silence of a snowy landscape. In fact, however, freezing the conflict would mean quite the opposite.
Behind the front, in the occupied areas of Ukraine, where people are being tortured and children abducted, there is no icy status quo that can be artificially preserved. All there is is the heat of Russia’s rule by the use of force. Russia began its war in eastern Ukraine in 2014, hiding behind the separatists in the Donbas until 2022. Countless times ceasefires were agreed that were supposed to stop the killing at the front. Germany was involved in these negotiations for seven years, as a mediator in the Minsk Process. But instead of working towards peace, Russia was preparing a brutal war of aggression.
Statements from this period make it obvious that Putin was not only concerned about the areas in eastern Ukraine, but wanted to conquer the entire country and subjugate its people. A “freezing” of the conflict would thus not only mean that Ukraine would surrender the occupied parts of its country and abandon the people who live there. It would also mean that its entire territory would be exposed to constant violence from Russia, to drone attacks on Kyiv, Odessa and Kherson.
Such “freezing” would gradually divest Ukraine of its sovereignty and identity day by day. And it would mean that the Russian threat to Europe’s security would remain. It would be the strategic opportunity for Putin to restore his military capabilities and, sooner or later, to attack even harder, potentially not only in Ukraine.
That is why what we decided immediately after 24 February 2022 still applies: We support Ukraine not just out of loyalty to a friend. We support Ukraine so that it may release its people from hell. And because it is in our own security interests to do so. The courageous men and women in Ukraine have stopped the war from spreading to other European countries such as Moldova.
Even if we sometimes feel like despairing because this war is not yet over, the claim that our international support has had no effect is simply wrong. Ukraine has managed to liberate more than half of the territory occupied by Russia since February 2022 – that’s some 74,000 square kilometres. During the counter-offensive, Ukraine successfully put Russia’s Black Sea fleet on the defensive. Ever more cargo vessels are again using the vital export route through the Black Sea.
We must not forget that Russia – a country that should be contributing considerably to peace in the world as a permanent member of the UN Security Council – is also fighting in Ukraine for a “new world order”, as Putin keeps underscoring in his speeches. A world order based on imperial violence. A world order in which international law means nothing and might is everything, where the side willing to break the rules in the most blatant way holds the strategic advantage. Where would we be if this principle of absolute nefariousness were to prevail? And if the autocracies and thugs around the world were to follow Russia’s example?
We oppose Russia’s vision of violence with our vision of a world based on international law, the Charter of the United Nations and on human rights. As much as we all want this war to be over, “freezing” the conflict would mean the opposite. It would “freeze” the iniquity. That must not be allowed to happen. For this reason, we are doing all we can to help the people in Ukraine defend themselves – from violence, war and iniquity. And also so that the schoolchildren of Kharkiv may again live in lasting peace.