Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine caused seismic changes in the Ukrainian diaspora. Long-standing disputes were instantly buried, with all attention focused on one thing only: support for Ukraine and people forced to seek temporary refuge abroad. In the almost two years since then, the community’s support for Ukraine has grown stronger, while the community itself has become much more powerful and influential globally. Ukrinform spoke with Paul Grod, President of the Ukrainian World Congress, about the current mood in the Ukrainian diaspora and its vision of the future.
UKRAINE’S VICTORY IS A TOP PRIORITY
- Last month, the 12th Ukrainian World Congress of Ukrainians took place, at which you were re-elected as the UWC President. What will be the priorities of your activities in the next four years?
- Compared to the previous year, the priorities will remain unchanged, but the tactics and strategy for attaining them will be refined. The three key priorities in the Ukrainian World Congress’s efforts are victory, rebuilding Ukraine, and a strong Ukrainian world. All of them complement each other, but we are handling each of them differently. Speaking about the first priority, it is not only about helping the Armed Forces of Ukraine, but also about wider military, political and economic support for Ukraine globally. We are well aware that Ukraine is able to defend itself thanks to international support, so we are sincerely grateful to more than fifty countries that are currently providing military assistance to Ukraine. However, we want to expand this circle. We are also aware that other countries’ commitment to Ukraine will only be sustained if this attitude is shared by their own civil society Therefore, it is the responsibility of the global Ukrainian community to ensure that this strong support is maintained by the civil society and political establishment. We are focused on ensuring that our partners do not give up and continue to support us by increasing their assistance.
- In your opinion, how has the world’s support for Ukraine changed during the war?
- I believe that support for Ukraine has increased during this time. In the last six months alone, there have been several positive developments, particularly in South America and Africa. The UWC intends to work even more actively in this area, and during its last Congress elected 10 Vice Presidents responsible for all regions of the world, with a particular focus on Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East. Overall, our organization now has chapters in more than 65 countries. We are committed to rolling up our sleeves and working on Ukraine’s accession to the EU and NATO, as well as providing it with the necessary military, economic and political support.
SUPPORT FOR UKRAINE IN SOUTH AMERICA IS GROWING
- The Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also been paying attention recently to increasing support for Ukraine by the states of the Global South. Is this also a priority for the UWC?
- Yes, particularly in South America, in view of a large number of Ukrainians living there — in Brazil alone, there are more than three hundred thousand of us. Our compatriots also live in Argentina, Paraguay, and even Venezuela. The influence of Ukrainians in these countries is growing, as they are beginning to realize their role and responsibility for advancing Ukraine’s interests. There have already been some positive developments with the presidents of Brazil and Argentina, and now the newly elected president of Paraguay is taking a pro-Ukrainian stance, as are the leaders of some Central American countries. Our organization’s chapters and communities are actively working in these countries with civil society in its broadest sense. We are even talking about the academic community, which is aware of the Russian threat and is very vocal about it. The truth is on our side, so it is extremely important for the leaders of our communities in South America to continue to be active both politically and in cultural diplomacy, as it is already bearing fruit. Besides, we work closely with the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and embassies to coordinate our activities.
- What does the Ukrainian community in South American countries look like?
- They are well aware that they are Ukrainians and are proud of it by cherishing Ukrainian culture. Due to the geographical distance, they do not come to Ukraine often, and most of them have never been there, but they still understand that this is their homeland. However, it should be noted that the leaders of our community in Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay do travel to Ukraine and meet with the authorities, and then return to their countries to explain in detail why Ukraine must be supported. This public diplomacy is essential because interpersonal connections have a great impact on public attitudes.
ALL UKRAINIANS SHOULD WORK ON A POSITIVE IMAGE OF UKRAINE
- Ukraine desperately needs more weapons to win as soon as possible. What work is being done by the UWC to lobby for Ukraine’s interests globally, particularly as regards military aid?
- We are running multiple advocacy campaigns in the European and North American states to encourage them to increase military aid to Ukraine. To do this more efficiently, we have set up a Strategic Advisory Council comprised of former distinguished generals from three NATO countries. We have worked together with them to keep up the pressure on governments to increase military aid. With our assistance, ongoing communication continues with the ministries of defense of allied countries in coordination with the Ukrainian security forces, which inform us of their needs.
- Do you notice any fatigue from Ukraine in the world?
- There is fatigue indeed, but it does not make partner countries give up and deny support. Our allies are well aware of the urgent need for continued assistance to Ukraine. Russia’s war against Ukraine and Hamas’s war against Israel have shown that the modern world is split between democratic and authoritarian terrorist states, and that Ukraine firmly belongs to the former club. That is why we will always be supported; however, Ukrainians worldwide must understand that everyone must work hard to avoid fatigue. Wherever you live, you need to advance a positive image of Ukraine.
- Does the UWC, as an organization, provide direct support to Ukrainian army units?
- The UWC is running a very hefty project called Unite with Ukraine, in which we, together with our partners, have raised over $95 million to assist the Armed Forces of Ukraine. This project originated at the beginning of the war when we purchased bulletproof vests, helmets, thermal imagers, military first aid kits, etc. By now, we have grown to the point where we buy powerful drones and armored vehicles. Just in September, during my visit to Ukraine, we handed over 50 armored tracked and 70 military transport vehicles, which are already operating on the frontline.
WE MUST REMAIN UKRAINIAN ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD
= How has our global community changed during the full-scale war?
- The main thing is the emergence of a keen awareness of a common goal: Ukraine is in danger, and we, as the global Ukrainian community, must do everything possible to protect the country’s independence. This has united the global diaspora. Actually, this awareness had existed earlier, but the war has boosted it significantly, and after the full-scale invasion began, we became united as a global nation. Previously, there was an impression that different types of Ukrainians existed in Ukraine and abroad, but now everyone understands that we are the same people. However, this feeling needs to be strengthened; we need to become fully aware of who we are. No matter where we live — Canberra, Ottawa, Warsaw, Washington, Buenos Aires, or Berlin — it is Ukraine and the Ukrainian nation that unites us and the fact that we cherish our language, culture, history, and traditions. This is what makes us feel Ukrainian. The duty of the global Ukrainian community is to preserve our identity and avoid assimilation. Of course, we need to adapt and integrate into other societies, but we should always remain Ukrainian.
- How is this possible in today’s interconnected world?
- First and foremost, our wonderful culture will help. I am proud to be a Ukrainian, and I know that I am not the only one. In Brazil, there are already fifth-generation Ukrainians who still cherish their traditions and love being Ukrainian. In Canada, there are also fifth-generation Ukrainians who have lost their language but are happy to dance, paint Easter eggs or wear embroidered shirts. They, too, are proud of their Ukrainianness. Now, in addition to this cultural component, we are united by the same big goal — the defense of Ukraine. We have to be prepared for this task for many generations because the Russian enemy will not leave us quickly. Just as Russians tried to destroy us 90 years ago during the Holodomor or 300 years ago during the massacres, they will persevere with their malicious attempts. However, the modern world is different from the one that existed in previous centuries. Today, we have our own independent state, a strong army, a powerful global diaspora and trusted friends. With this in mind, I am convinced of our victory, but we all have to work for it. Our children and grandchildren must be ardent patriots of Ukraine to continue to support and strengthen it.
- What advice would you give to an average Ukrainian who lives abroad but wants to be useful to Ukraine?
- Educating children properly should be your starting point. Ask yourself if your children are aware of what is happening in Ukraine, whether you are raising conscious Ukrainians who have Ukrainian friends, and whether they are armed with information to combat propaganda. In other words, you should mostly focus on your own family, enroll your children in Ukrainian schools, youth organizations, camps, immerse them in the Ukrainian environment. If no such environment could be found around you, you must create it yourselves. For example, if you need a kindergarten, join forces with other Ukrainians to set it up, build up communities. This would be my first piece of advice because together we are strong. Through organized communities, we can reach national governments, influence political processes and the media. The UWC constantly publishes various informational materials and encourages its chapters to use them to persuade politicians to do more: recognize the Holodomor as genocide, provide more military assistance, boost economic support, impose new sanctions, etc.
DIASPORA TO PROVIDE HUMAN RESOURCES FOR UKRAINE’S RECONSTRUCTION
- How can Ukrainians abroad contribute to postwar reconstruction?
- The global Ukrainian community obviously needs to think of and prepare for reconstruction. In fact, reconstruction is already happening and requires significant assistance, so if you are willing and able, you should definitely get involved. The UWC supports numerous projects and encourages others to join them. One of our key projects is Energize Ukraine under which we obtain equipment from energy companies and deliver it to rebuild Ukraine’s power system. The second component of this project is financing the development of microgrids in Ukraine. An example of this is a school in Chernihiv, where this project is currently being implemented. The educational institution becomes much more energy efficient by installing solar panels, batteries, a generator, and other necessary equipment connected into one system. This way, whenever the central power supply is cut off, the school would still have heating and power. Such projects are needed today; they do not wait for the war to end. When the big reconstruction begins after the victory, there will be a need for huge human resources, the provision of which will become the responsibility of the global Ukrainian community.
- It was against the background of the upcoming reconstruction that President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyi met with Canadian businessmen during his visit to Canada in September. Do you notice any growing interest in Ukraine on behalf of Canadian businesses?
- It should be realized that small and medium-sized businesses are the best partners in rebuilding Ukraine. In developed countries, it is small and medium-sized businesses that form the backbone of the economy and provide the majority of jobs. They are flexible and innovative; therefore, in my opinion, they will propel Ukraine’s economic reconstruction. All large companies, pension funds, and the like are under heavy restrictions and, given the security situation in Ukraine, they will be hard-pressed to invest there. Meanwhile, we urge our partner countries to develop war risk insurance programs. No company would invest in Ukraine with missiles hitting it and a risk that the investment may be ruined in a few minutes. However, investors would be willing to take risks if they knew that a solvent foreign government is ready to provide insurance. With this condition in mind, there is already interest. There are reconstruction conferences around the world that our chapters — mostly chambers of commerce — hold together on a regular basis with Ukrainian Government, businesses, and associations.
WITHOUT THE GLOBALLY UNITED UKRAINIAN PEOPLE, WE MIGHT LOSE UKRAINE
- How would you describe the current level of interaction and communication between the UWC and the Ukrainian authorities?
- Frankly speaking, it is very good; we maintain constant dialog. We work with the President’s Office, the Parliament, and most ministries. I can count on the fingers of one hand those ministries with which we do not interact. So, we have good communication established with all branches of government, but we need more hands to handle all the projects. That’s why we call on volunteers from all over the world — Ukrainians or friends of Ukraine — to join us, because there is a lot of work to be done, since we are perceived as a bridge that can bring support and experience from abroad.
- How effective is Russian propaganda globally?
- There are two kinds of Russian propaganda: one is crude and the other — more subtle. The first one spreads nonsense about Ukraine being ruled by a Nazi regime that needs to be toppled immediately, etc. However, these messages would get ignored in the democratic, civilized world. The main consumers of this brutal propaganda are authoritarian regimes and the domestic audience in Russia. The more subtle misinformation that, among other things, tries to instigate hostility between refugees and the public in their host countries is more dangerous. Over the past three months, I have travelled to 11 European countries, and I have noticed this narrative elsewhere. It is essential to ensure that politicians in all countries recognize this propaganda and fight it. Artificial political projects that try to exploit historical problems by using the symbolism of extinct state entities are dangerous as well. However, these attempts are not new; Russians have been trying to sow ethnic hatred for decades. Given this, the global Ukrainian community needs to tell the truth constantly and inform the public about the current situation.
- You’ve mentioned that the Ukrainian community and Ukraine’s role in the world have strengthened significantly during the war. How can this impact be maintained after the victory, when the events in Ukraine will no longer be broadcast on every screen?
- The global Ukrainian community has indeed grown stronger and will become even more powerful after the victory because it will be more organized, more numerous, and more conscious. However, to achieve this, it is essential that, following the victory, we do not lose our unity or wind up the recent coordination efforts. We must be aware of the fact that, having attacked Ukraine many times over the centuries, Russia can do it over and over again. Therefore, if we lose international support, Ukraine will find itself in danger again. I hope this makes people realize that without a united global Ukrainian people, we might lose Ukraine forever. We need to rise to the top of society, to be in government, medicine, science, education, business, culture — everywhere. Ukraine requires us to have the most influence. We must also teach our children this: wherever Ukrainians live, they should be at the top of society and do everything possible to rebuild a new Ukraine.
- My final question is about the 90th anniversary of the Holodomor genocide. What is the UWC planning for this sad date?
- One must know one’s history because, without it, the direction of movement can never be understood. That is why we have been working with various countries for many years to make them recognize the Holodomor as an act of genocide. We are constantly in contact with politicians, providing them with information, which is gradually yielding results. To make sure that we ourselves remember the past, the UWC created the Global Holodomor Descendants Network project that collects testimonies about this crime worldwide. We remind descendants of Holodomor victims all the time to tell the stories of their families so that they are not lost. In this context, the UWC contributes to creating the Holodomor Museum in Kyiv, as we recognize the importance of an academic institution intended to educate the world about the Holodomor. The UWC generally pays considerable attention to raising awareness about the Holodomor, since comprehending this tragedy helps the international community to understand why Russia is again trying to destroy the Ukrainian nation.
Maksym Nalyvaiko, Toronto
Photo by the UWC Press Service