By Uilson Jones, Zuzanna Mietlińska, Chira Tudoran
Due to repeated rhetoric about a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on the side of the US, the beginning of 2022 was very tense for people in Eastern Europe. However, when the war eventually arrived at Europe’s doorstep, many were caught off guard by the complete lack of evacuation plans on the side of the Ukrainian government. This brings to mind a classic Aesop fable “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”, the moral of which is ever relevant in this context. Regardless, Europe needed to show a strong and unified response in opposition to the tide of Russian imperialism, and so it did. The following captures the extent of the Eastern European response to the blatant aggression of the Russian state.
27.02: As the biggest European neighbour of Ukraine, Poland has provided help for the attacked country in various guises. Polish strategy is based on two basic routes:
- diplomacy and bilateral discourse, in particular between Ukraine and the EU – ensuring severe sanctions for Russia are being accepted by individual EU countries, and supporting Ukraine on the financial level and sending additional military aid (in response to Kyiv’s request)
- refugee help – accepting asylum-seekers in Poland, and providing them with further help.
Polish president Andrzej Duda, Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki and respective cabinet ministers, are coordinating their work towards a diplomatic dialogue between Ukraine, NATO and the European Union. Presidents Duda and Zelensky are in sustained contact to ensure Ukraine’s current needs are being respected and heard in the international sphere. During the meeting with Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin, Morawiecki criticized some countries’ reluctance towards big pressure put on Moscow, e.g. the lack of agreement on strict sanctions for Kremlin:
“Today, there is no time for the unyielding egoism seen in some Western countries – unfortunately also here, in Germany. That is why I met with the Chancellor to stir the conscience of Germany so that they finally decide to introduce “crushing” sanctions that are firm enough to influence the decisions of the Kremlin and Putin (…) 5 000 helmets? That must be a joke!”
“Please remember that through NS2 and NS1, there flows not only gas but also blood of the children, soldiers and mothers” .
On 26.02.22, Polish President Andrzej Duda also stressed the importance of Ukraine’s “express path” for joining the European Union:
“Candidate status should be granted immediately and membership talks should start immediately after (…) Ukraine should also have access to EU funds for reconstruction. This is what Ukraine deserves”.
Minister of Climate and Environment Anna Moskwa has declared her will to transform Poland in terms of energy supply – talks are underway on the “energy security and independence” of Poland and Lithuania.
The EU’s foreign affairs ministers meeting held in Brussels on 25.02.22 formally accepted the block of further sanctions for the Russian Federation, which covers:
“the financial, energy, transport (aviation), dual-use goods, export control and financing and visa policy sectors, as well as individual sanctions targeting Russian oligarchs and the political elite supporting the aggression, as well as representatives of Belarusian law enforcement agencies”.
Former European Council’s president and current EPP’s president Donald Tusk also uses his connections to put pressure on European governments, which can be illustrated by the following Tweet. Disregarding the magnitude of how effective his voice is in the current European decision-making process, this short social media-based message from 25.02.22 is important, as it is symbolic and clearly falls in line with Polish strategic aims regarding the current problematics concerning Ukraine:
What is even more crucial is the fact that almost all politicians from the Polish political spectrum are united under a clear message: “Putin’s aggression and violations of international law must be held back unitarily, with the help of all European nations”. It is especially important in the context of countries such as Hungary, Italy and Germany, and their late response to the problem, e.g. dismissing the Russian Federation from the SWIFT system, as well as putting further financial restrictions on that country (although due to the political pressure, the situation is changing day by day).
Regarding the help for Ukraine, Poland has also taken measures through different political and cultural channels. So far, the following are being developed and ensured to provide help for Ukrainian asylum-seekers:
- jurisdictional: the General Council of the Bar agreed to organize free of charge jurisdictional help for Ukrainian citizens in Poland;
- medical, psychological & job market: Damian’s Medical Center has offered medical help for Ukrainian asylum-seekers as well as job positions for Ukrainian citizens; psychological help is provided by Polish, Ukrainian and Russian-speaking individuals operating through infolines;
- Educational: a package of instructions for individual schools has been developed for the incoming children (for example, the organization of extracurricular Polish lessons for foreigners);
- transportation: free of charge train-based transportation for Ukrainian citizens;
- town-hall, local governments’ and university based help: this includes a collection of items such as food, clothing, and cleaning supplies;
- public institutions: many institutions are providing help, which includes further information about the war, and the collection of the above mentioned items.
Since 28.02.22: The governmental domain PomagamUkrainie.gov.pl has also been opened to coordinate humanitarian aid for Ukraine. It provides a platform for individuals to aid those fleeing Ukraine in terms of:
- material support
- flat or shelter
- personal support in Poland
On 28.02.22, Polish Border Patrol stated that only that day, more than 100 000 people crossed the Ukrainian-Polish border. The number of asylum-seekers is, so far, growing every day.
The Supreme Council: Poland will also provide the Ukrainian army with 28 MiG-29s, as part of the European Union’s military help.
NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoana spoke live on Thursday at the North Atlantic Alliance headquarters about the necessary measures Romania needs to take regarding the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The North Atlantic Council agreed to the request to activate the allied defense plans, including Romania, which is a historic move. Mircea Geoana’s statement:
“It means that all military plans to strengthen the military presence, to deter NATO on the eastern flank, including in Romania, will be activated. Today we have decided to give additional responsibilities to NATO’s Allied Commander-in-Chief, US General Wolters, to take any further action and to direct other available resources to strengthen the eastern flank. The American allies have sent additional forces to the region, they have sent F35 planes to Romania, these plans are for vigilance, caution, we do not anticipate risks to NATO security, but we are taking measures, naturally, to increase this vigilance. These plans also have a humanitarian dimension, we have seen the natural emotion and uneasiness that many, including ours, have about the situation there, a component of these defense plans, they also have a humanitarian component, we are in contact and with the European Union, and together with the countries on the eastern flank, Romania or Poland, or anyone else, we have measures including on the humanitarian line because the brutal attack of the Russian Federation has naturally caused panic, anxiety and many people who want to leave the country.”
Hence, NATO allies have sent their troops to Romania as part of NATO efforts to strengthen its eastern flank. The US has sent 1 000 additional troops to the 900 US service members that were already stationed in Romania, a NATO member since 2004. France has sent 500 troops. Belgium said it will also send 300 troops.
On the same Thursday, Romanian politicians condemned the actions of Russia. According to them, Russia has become the architect of the gravest security crisis since World War II, and puts in danger the lives of millions of people. Romania has officially closed its airspace to Russian aircraft and pledged “unconditional political support” for Ukraine in the event of the Russian invasion, providing Ukraine with cybersecurity backing.
The Minister of Internal Affairs, Lucian Bode, said that Romania should expect and prepare for a massive influx of refugees. The Minister of Defense stated that Romania could take in 500 000 Ukrainian refugees if needed. Likewise, the Minister of Labour stated that all Ukrainians who wish to work in Romania will not require the work permit for the next 9 months. Furthermore, UNICEF Romania has also helped the welfare and child services of municipalities at the border, where most of the Ukrainian families are coming through. As of Monday, more than 67 000 Ukrainians have found refuge in Romania.
The ministers and politicians have not been the only ones mobilising though. In Siret, the busiest border crossing between the two countries, hundreds of volunteers from civil society, the Romanian emergency inspectorate and Romanian firefighters provide immediate relief including food, mobile phone sim cards and free transportation to various cities in Romania. People have started Facebook groups for volunteers, such as Uniți pentru Ukraina/United for Ukraine and Fight for Freedom. Romanians throughout the country have offered their homes free of rent to families with children, including those with pets.
On Sunday, the Romanian government announced 3 million euros in aid for Ukraine, consisting of fuel, bulletproof vests, combat helmets, ammunition and military equipment, food, water, and medicines.
Over the course of the war, Moldova has likewise accepted Ukrainian refugees with open arms. As of Sunday 70 000 people entered Moldova with many moving onwards to EU countries and some deciding to seek asylum in Moldova. Given that Moldova has the weakest economy in Europe, it has received aid from countries like Lithuania to deal with the refugee crisis. Additionally, Moldova has been a harbor for foreign aid to Ukraine due to its proximity. This is a case in point of how, regardless of the level of economic development, everyone is trying to chip in and come to the aid of common Ukrainians.
Hungary’s current political climate could build up to a separate article regarding its relations with Ukraine and the Russian Federation. Its ties with Kremlin are evident – the prime minister of Hungary, Viktor Orbán, has publicly set the seal on the history of Russian-Hungarian relations, in particular, the cooperation between him and Putin:
“Difficult times, but we are in very good company” – he declared on February 1, 2022.
Although Hungary has officially condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it firstly refused to send weapons to Ukraine, and then did not permit the transit of weapons and heavy machinery through Hungary, as declared by the Foreign Minister, Péter Szijjártó, on Monday. This political decision is based on two facts. Firstly, the decision is backed up by the following statement:
“This decision is required in order to guarantee the security of Hungary and the Hungarian community in Transcarpathia” – referring to a region inhabited by Hungarian-speaking communities.
“The reason for making this decision is that such deliveries might become targets of hostile military action” – Szijjártó explained.
Secondly, Orbán is facing parliamentary elections on April 3, which have often been referred to in the media as “tough”. This fact might be one of the key reasons for the lack of determined steps and the reluctance in providing military help. Humanitarian assistance, such as food and water, will be delivered to the country, especially to Western Ukraine.
TAKEAWAYS FROM EASTERN EUROPEAN REACTION
The overwhelming support that the Ukrainian people were met with in this time of crisis, not only from the individual governments of Europe but also from the civilian populations on the Eastern flank, has undoubtedly touched their hearts. Rather unfortunately, the worst is still ahead for the Ukrainian civilians due to the growing humanitarian crisis. For this reason, they will need the continued support of their neighbors with unrelenting fervor.
Edited by Karolina Hajna, artwork by Chira Tudoran