Ukraine is fighting for survival
Ukraine will survive the war through its great determination and with the help of external assistance, according to Finland’s Ambassador in Kyiv Jaakko Lehtovirta. He says that the country that eventually emerges after the war will be very different from the Ukraine we knew before 2014.
How would you describe the current situation and the biggest challenges in Ukraine?
As we all know, Ukraine’s greatest challenge is to survive this war, which started when Russia first attacked Ukraine in 2014 and expanded exponentially in February this year. The country is fighting for survival. It is clear that Russia wants to destroy Ukraine’s right to self-determination and annex at least parts of the country to Russia. Ukraine’s other challenges and problems are secondary to the war.
Recently, we heard the good news that Ukraine has succeeded in seizing the military initiative and in pushing Russia back from parts of its territory. However, looking at the map, it is clear that Ukrainians still have a long and rocky road ahead of them. Besides, Russia has attacked different kinds of civilian targets, power plants especially, to make it more difficult for Ukrainians to survive the coming winter.
How is Finland supporting Ukraine?
Finland’s development cooperation with Ukraine started in 2006. Our support has focused on improving the quality of education, on promoting the rule of law and on strengthening energy security and climate resilience. These are themes where Ukrainians themselves feel they need support.
The situation has changed in this respect, too, since February. Projects have been adapted to the current situation, and Finland has given a substantial amount of additional support to Ukraine. Humanitarian assistance, channelled through UN agencies and the International Red Cross Movement, plays a major role in this.
This year, Finland’s development and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine totals nearly EUR 100 million. Of this sum, around EUR 7.5 million is for existing cooperation and EUR 91.5 million for additional support following Russia’s invasion. The additional support includes the around 200 temporary family homes Finland is delivering to Irpin to house families who have lost their homes.
Because of the invasion, Finland even made the unprecedented decision to export arms to a conflict area. Finland has granted Ukraine defence materiel assistance, including both military protective equipment and arms assistance.
In addition, Finland has funded the EU’s Civil Protection Mechanism that has delivered to Ukraine tents, medical supplies, fire engines, ambulances and back-up generators. In 2022, Finland's support to Ukraine totals almost 300 million euros.
How do you see the future of Ukraine?
At the moment, the horizon of the future is not far away: we are planning only a few months ahead. A key question is how Ukraine will survive the winter and how Europe will manage amid the energy crisis. I believe that, despite the energy crisis, Europeans will continue to stand with Ukraine. Whenever we would like to grumble about the soaring energy prices, we should remember what it means for Ukrainians.
I am confident that Ukraine will survive the war through its great determination and with our help. Ukrainians are of one mind about wanting to rid themselves of the dependency on Russia and about wanting to join the European Union and NATO, too, at some point in time.
The country that eventually emerges after the war will be very different from the Ukraine we knew before 2014. A large part of the country is in ruins because of the war, and the need for reconstruction in enormous. However, reconstruction must also mean modernising the structures of society.
Ukrainians themselves acknowledge that they have problems they have inherited from the Soviet era, such as corruption, the unreasonably prominent role of oligarchs, and deficiencies in the rule of law. And they want to get rid of these problems.
Russia’s invasion forced millions of Ukrainians to leave their homes and flee to other countries. When they return home, they will bring with them their personal experience of the workings of other European societies. This will help change the Ukrainian society.
What has uplifted you personally in Ukraine and what can we learn from the locals?
It is uplifting to see how people stay optimistic and solution-oriented even though they are fighting for survival. Ukrainians face their problems as they come and try to fix them instead of wallowing in them. They tackle major challenges by breaking them down into smaller problems and by solving one problem at a time. We could learn from this attitude.
In this article series, Finnish ambassadors around the world tell what is happening in their duty station.
Text: Milma Kettunen