Ukraine is fighting our war

| March 3, 2024

On the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion of his country, Ambassador Vasyl Myroshnychenko has delivered a blunt and heartfelt message to Australia—Ukraine is fighting our war.

And it needs more help from Australia and like minded countries in the front line of a conflict between democracies and autocracies.

Myroshnychenko tells the National Press Club in Canberra today that Russia, China, Europe, NATO, and the Five Eyes nations thought Ukraine would be defeated in three weeks, ‘maybe five if we were as lucky.’

Two years later Ukraine is still fighting hard. ‘But,’ he asks, ‘do you want to see this war drag on for another year? Another two years? Longer? Do you want Russia to win? Is that acceptable to you?’

Days after President Volodymyr Zelensky revealed that 31,000 Ukrainian service personnel had died in the war so far, Myroshnychenko asks: ‘How many Ukrainian soldiers killed in action can the world accept? How many Ukrainian civilian deaths are too many, when they are not accidents, but deliberately targeted by Russian precision-guided missiles and drones? How much civilian infrastructure deliberately destroyed by Russia is too much?’

In short, he asks, ‘Is there a limit that liberal democracies, including Australia, will place on Russia’s unprovoked, illegal and immoral war of territorial annexation against Ukraine? Or is there no limit? How does this war end? And when?’

Zelenskyy has done a remarkable job of holding the country together and galvanising a heroic defence of the nation.

‘Australia has certainly responded to President Zelenskyy, and to the desperate defence of Ukraine, in a very meaningful and practical way. Ukraine’s front-line troops and Ukraine’s civilians clearly know exactly what Australia has given them. They are deeply grateful and will never forget Australia. The defence of Ukraine has bi-partisan support in the Australian Parliament. Ukraine needs it.

‘The Bushmasters, the artillery, the lightweight drones, the coal delivery, and all the other things make a dramatic difference. They save lives, they prevent casualties, they enable an effective defence. Australia’s contributions, when combined with everyone else’s, are vital.’

But that is not enough assistance to create the level of firepower and combat force Ukraine needs to reverse Russia’s gains and gains and end the war. Or to protect Ukraine’s civilians from Russian missiles and drones.

‘Ukraine’s people are fighting hard, but they do not have enough military, humanitarian assistance and reconstruction support to win, and thus to end this war,’ the ambassador says.

‘We have barely enough assistance. We have drip-fed and ad hoc one-off support contributions sufficient to hang on and to keep going. But is that acceptable? For how many years should this war drag on?’

‘We need of everything,’ Myroshnychenko says. ‘We need enough to end this war and to defeat Russia’s invasion. “Hanging on” is not enough.’

Russia thinks it can win and does not want to stop fighting. Ukraine has a right to its sovereignty, independence, self-defence and national security, ‘so we will not stop fighting,’ he says.

Ukraine has shown that its soldiers can match and over-match Russian military forces at sea and on land, they can effectively employ foreign military equipment and humanitarian support.

Nothing is squandered and Ukraine’s people have proven optimistic and resilient in the face of an existential threat not only to their nation but also to the international rules-based order.

‘Let us show you that we can do more, if you provide us with more,’ Myroshnychenko says.

‘Ukraine is not asking Australia, or anyone else, to send combat troops to fight for us; we can fight for ourselves.

‘But we cannot fight empty-handed. We need more, so that we can do more. We want the war to end swiftly, we do not want year after year of a Russia versus Ukraine meat-grinder.

Ukraine wants an endgame, he says, ‘and we know that is what liberal democracies want: the UN Charter to prevail, sovereign borders to be respected, no wars of territorial annexation, global security stability, international agreements to be upheld, and the global economy normalised.’

Ukraine wants its borders, its freedom, and its sovereignty restored, swiftly and irreversibly.

Australia can be more involved with like-minded nations providing tanks, air power, air defences and other equipment.

Myroshnychenko says Ukraine needs to be relieved as much as possible of the humanitarian burden to protect, nurture, and support the civilian community so it can focus on its military objectives. It eeds more humanitarian assistance, energy sources especially coal, public utility repairs, and reconstruction support. We need it now. Australia can contribute more.

He says his country needs to return to peacetime full-functionality as fast as possible. Removing Russian landmines, rebuilding agricultural and industrial capacity, restoring energy reticulation and lines of communication, and repairing war damage are all lines of effort that Australian construction, commerce, and industry are very good at. ‘We cannot wait for the war to end before commencing this work.’

‘In this regard Ukraine is deeply grateful for the continued vocal, practical, and precise support of Andrew and Nicola Forrest, and their Minderoo Foundation. They have demonstrated that supporting Ukraine’s defence and reconstruction is a whole-of-community enterprise. There is a role for private sector industry, business and philanthropy, not just for government.’

Ukraine needs an avalanche of international support, but aid is arriving in ad hoc pockets and just in time. ‘We need so much international support we can barely absorb it. We need “push” logistics, not “pull” logistics.’

‘Our artillery guns and mortars are falling silent for want of ammunition at the gun lines. We don’t have enough missiles for our target list. We don’t have enough helicopters to retrieve our front-line casualties and get them to combat surgical hospitals.’

Ukraine needs its allies to shift into overdrive, from a calculated drawing down of surplus war-stocks to a determined wartime production footing. ‘Ammunition and missile production lines that remain at low-rate production, working 38-hour 4-day weeks, is not where we need to be in 2024.’

Ukraine’s allies need to step up quickly to a wartime tempo in ammunition, missile, armoured vehicle, and drone assembly. ‘We need high-rate production, we need high-throughput explosive and propellant supply chains, and we need them now.’

Australia can contribute more to the propellant and explosives supply chain effort, Myroshnychenko says.

More than all these things is the need for ‘thought leadership’, he says. ‘Australia is very good at this, too. Ukraine needs innovative, creative, effective ways to generate a fast, slick military and humanitarian supply chain into Ukraine; a supply chain without bottlenecks.’

Australia should remain a member of the enthusiastic network of liberal democracies that will become the ‘arsenal of democracy’ for Ukraine, he says.

Contributions to Ukraine’s defence are an investment in the defence of the international rules-based order, the primacy of the UN Charter, the entitlement of a law-abiding nation to rely on its sovereignty and its sovereign borders and the freedom from armed aggression. ‘It is a direct resistance to the cynical perversion of the UN Security Council by one of its permanent members.’

Myroshnychenko says Ukraine is fighting on behalf of Australia. ‘Every Ukrainian wants to have what every Australian has, what we used to have. Just like you, we want to take our kids bush walking or camping over the weekend, but our countryside is deliberately and indiscriminately littered with unmarked Russian minefields now. Our farmers are just like your farmers: they want to get a fair price for the food and fibre they produce, and not be concerned about unexploded ordnance or transport chains attacked by military forces, which in many cases have destroyed their businesses.

‘Parents want to read a bedtime story to their kids but instead rush to winter bomb shelters when the air raid sirens sound.

‘Grandparents want to babysit for their grandchildren, instead of going to their funerals because Russians used a missile to deliberately strike a school. Our young lads want to go to football training and go out for beer on a Friday night, but they have to be in the trenches under Russian shelling.’

Ukrainian women and men on the front line are giving up their tomorrows right now too, he says, for the same values and principles as those for which Australians died: sovereignty, democracy, and freedom from armed coercion. ‘Ukraine will fight and die for those values and principles, but we cannot do it alone. We need Australia’s help, and that of all other like minded nations.

‘Ukrainians realise that our lives will never be the same as they were before the 24th of February 2022. But we will do everything possible to make sure that the next generation lives in peace and security, on its own land, without having to die for the privilege.

‘Ukrainians hope you will be able to help to a greater degree. We have already accepted the absolute requirement to set aside any desire for revenge. But we cannot settle for anything less than a just, sovereign, and irreversible peace. Surely that’s very Australian?’

This article was published by The Strategist.