“The only thing I wish for is to go back to school, play volleyball with my friends and live a normal life.”
This is what a teenager, sixteen years old, said to me when I met her in Kharkiv in January – at a warming centre in the midst of a city destroyed by Russian bombs, with temperatures at minus 15 degrees.
She told me how counting to 45 had become part of her daily life – since the start of the Russian war of aggression.
Because it takes 45 seconds for Russian missiles to hit Kharkiv after you hear the sirens.
45 seconds – if you are lucky, that is enough time to get your little brother or your grandmother to safety.
But 45 seconds – that is not enough for a normal life. 45 seconds is not enough to go to school. 45 seconds is not enough to play volleyball.
I believe that today’s conference is about this teenager in Kharkiv and the boys and girls of her generation –
it is about supporting Ukraine to build a future in which all Ukrainians will once again live in freedom, security and peace.
From the moment Russia began its ruthless war of aggression on the 24th of February last year, all of us in this room have stood resolutely by the side of Ukraine – by the Ukrainians’ right to defend themselves.
This commitment does not stop here.
For the German Government, and for all the other governments gathered here, this commitment stands – for as long as it takes.
Together, we are countering President Putin’s war of aggression with a rebuilding campaign – united in defence, united in rebuilding.
We continue to support Ukraine financially, politically and with weapons.
We want Ukraine to win this war – and to win peace.
That’s why we have made it clear that Ukraine, too, belongs to the European family – and as the Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said, this morning’s update by the European Commission on Ukraine’s reform efforts shows that Ukraine is making commendable progress – despite the war.
Ukraine will eventually become a member of the European Union.
With our partners, we’re also working towards greater political and practical cooperation between Ukraine and NATO.
And my colleague Minister for Development Svenja Schulze and I have come here today to underline that the German Government is stepping up its efforts for Ukraine’s recovery.
This recovery starts with humanitarian support:
Germany will provide Ukraine with an additional 381 million euro in humanitarian assistance in 2023 – for everything from generators to food and tents for those who have recently fled or lost their homes.
We will continue our demining work – since there can be no peace in places where people live in constant fear of their children stepping on a landmine while playing.
This support comes on top of the total recovery assistance being provided by our Foreign Office, Ministry for Development, Ministry for Economic Affairs and many other authorities in the German Government.
Because, yes, recovery is about money. It needs to be.
Since the beginning of Russia’s war, Germany has provided 16.8 billion euro in support of efforts related to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, including military aid. And we applaud those countries who, also in terms of their GDP, have made similar contributions.
But when we look at long-term reconstruction, money is not enough.
We want to support Ukraine in “building back better”, as we called it at last year’s Recovery Conference in Lugano and also in Italy.
This means that as its power sector is rebuilt, we’re helping Ukraine to invest in renewables and energy efficiency – in a recovery that is green and therefore longer-lasting and sustainable.
Also, reconstruction is a collective effort that will only succeed if public and private actors work together – as you, James, have said many times.
Despite the war and its damage to Ukraine’s economy, many German companies continue to operate in Ukraine – in the healthcare, energy, food and water sectors. And they see reconstruction as an opportunity for growth.
I applaud them for this. They not only provide goods, services and jobs –they provide trust in the future of Ukraine.
As the German Government, we’re therefore supporting them with national investment guarantees – because, yes, this is also political.
And we call on others to follow suit – so that companies do not shy away from investing in Ukraine.
Finally, I’m convinced that we need to link Ukraine’s recovery even more to the EU accession process.
Our goal is to help rebuild a Ukraine that is “fit for the EU”.
We stand ready to support Ukraine in its reform efforts on the path towards membership.
That’s why Ukraine’s EU accession process will be a special focus at next year’s Recovery Conference that will be held in Germany – to make recovery a truly European endeavour.
Ladies and gentlemen, colleagues and friends,
We do not know when Russia will stop its brutal war of aggression – that is in the hands of the one man who started this war.
But what we do know, and what we promise, is:
We will continue supporting Ukraine’s recovery – and we will continue helping Ukraine to win this war, and to win peace.
So that every teenage girl in Ukraine can do what teenage girls in the rest of Europe do every day:
Go to school without fear.
Play volleyball with their friends without counting to 45.
Simply live a normal life in peace and freedom.