This content is not available in your region

Russia has already declared war on the EU and NATO | View

Access to the comments Comments
By Hanna Hopko
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

The word “children” was etched in large white letters in Russian on the ground next to the building, in the hope that Russian jets would spare the target. 

Hundreds of civilians, from the very old to the very young, had flocked to the theatre in the southern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol seeking refuge from the invaders’ ceaseless assault. Yet still the bombs came, reducing a temple of culture to a pile of rubble. 

It took nine days to tally up the dead, numbering roughly 300, according to the city council. But counting casualties has become impossible in a city where they cannot keep pace with the dead. Bodies have piled up on the streets as local residents race to dig mass graves. 

Time is running out for the living, who struggle to cope with freezing temperatures and shortages of food and water, their ability to leave -- or bring desperately needed supplies in -- cut off by the cordon of Russian soldiers encircling the besieged city, who are now forcibly relocating Mariupol’s residents to Russia.

Hold these images in your head. Please do not look away. Ukrainians need the world to see what is happening in my country -- to feel it, in their very souls -- and conjure the moral courage to do what is right.

Each day brings a new horror story in the ongoing saga of the senseless slaughter of innocent lives that has unfolded since Russia invaded in late February. 

The World Health Organization reports it now has verified 64 Russian attacks on Ukrainian health facilities since the war began, leaving hundreds of thousands of people without water and electricity. 

Before the attack on the Mariupol theatre, Russian bombs struck a maternity hospital, killing mothers and babies. 

After days of intense shelling, Russian officials announced on Friday a strategic shift to the eastern Donbas region, which promises more carnage.

The use of weapons of mass destruction against civilians is a crime against humanity and a violation of the fourth Geneva Convention of 1949. 

Government officials and civil society organisations in Ukraine are now collecting evidence of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war crimes.

We are gratified by the recent announcement that the US is sending $800 million (€733 million) in additional security aid to our country. 

The world’s response has been amazing. The speeches and pledges at the meetings in Europe are truly heartening. 

But as the European leaders who have just returned from Kyiv have explained, Ukraine needs even more from its allies to prevent the further slaughter of civilians as Russia continues its relentless campaign to destroy our country. We need NATO to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine. To create true humanitarian corridors, allowing innocent women and children safe passage out of the war zone.

The UN General Assembly earlier this month approved by an overwhelming majority a resolution calling on Russia to “immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine".

In March, the International Court of Justice ruled by a vote of 13-2 that there was no evidence to support Russia’s pretext for war, and demanded an immediate end to its military operations. 

Yes, Russian President Putin has ignored the rule of law many times in the past, in Crimea, Syria, Chechnya, Luhansk and Donetsk, to name just a few examples. 

But this is a violation of another magnitude, an effort to totally obliterate a sovereign nation he does not believe even has the right to exist. 

If he is allowed to continue, is there is nothing to stop him from crossing other borders, in an attempt to reassemble the Tsarist Russian empire of the past? Can a superpower pronounce Putin a “war criminal,” as President Biden did Wednesday, with no consequences? Does the system established following World War II to govern global security have any meaning if Putin can blow through these guardrails with impunity?

NATO and the European Union are vital parts of that international order. I listen as diplomats voice concern about stepping in to save Ukrainian lives; taking firmer measures would risk drawing NATO and the EU into the war now raging in my country, they say. 

But Russia has already declared war on NATO, on the EU, on their founding principles and values. Ukraine is just the battlefield on which that war is being fought. This is not just an assault by an autocracy on an emergent democracy. This battle is the ultimate test of a rules-based world order against a dictator who believes he can take whatever territory he desires through military might - no matter how many die in the process. Free people everywhere have a stake in the outcome.

There are means of holding leaders accountable for war crimes - as in Nuremberg, Cambodia, the former Yugoslavia, and Rwanda. But the wheels of international justice turn slowly. We need to close the sky and stop the slaughter now before more war crimes are committed, before thousands more Ukrainians are murdered. Only then can the work of holding Putin accountable begin. The world is watching. China’s decision about what to do with Taiwan may well hinge on the consequences they see levelled for Putin’s invasion. North Korea too is taking note.

What is happening now in Ukraine is an opportunity to show the world that the rule of law is stronger than the rule of brute force — and that morality does not stop at NATO’s borders.

The Ukrainian people are rising up in resistance, fighting heroically against Russia’s vastly superior firepower. Our efforts, with the help of our democratic allies, must succeed, and not just for Ukraine’s sake. Victory here matters to Georgia, to Moldova, to the rest of the free world. With greater support from the US, NATO and the EU, victory can come sooner. With your help, lives can be saved.

Don’t let the death of mothers and their babies be in vain. Let it be a reminder of the high cost of tyranny — a reminder that freedom is a cause worth sacrificing for.

Hanna Hopko is chair of Ukraine’s Democracy in Action Conference and a former Ukrainian MP.