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The two Irish politicians meet with Ukraine govt on visit to Kyiv. Billy Kelleher

Billy Kelleher I've seen mass graves in Bucha - I never thought such depravity would return to Europe

The Irish MEP documents a visit he and Senator Timmy Dooley made this week to Kyiv, Bucha and Irpin.

LAST UPDATE | 14 Apr 2022

THE LAST TIME Senator Timmy Dooley and I crossed the border between Poland and Ukraine; tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees were travelling in the opposite direction seeking sanctuary from Russian military aggression.

A month later, things have dramatically changed. Gone are the queues of people on foot or in their cars. Lviv and the western Ukrainian towns we travelled through on the way to Kyiv were eerily silent and almost empty.

The changing dynamic in the war between Russia and Ukraine has, in the short term, stemmed the flow of refugees heading for the EU border. Those who haven’t fled west seem to be staying put to see what will happen when the latest onslaught from Russia in the South East begins.

In fact, on Sunday, while speaking to refugees from Kyiv living in Lviv, the consensus was that they would return to Kyiv as soon as they could – “why stay in Lviv when we can go back to our homes in Kyiv?”

Invitation to Kyiv

Earlier this week, we were invited by two Ukrainian political parties, Servant of the People led by President Zelenskyy and Golos led by Kira Rudyk MP to return to Ukraine to bear witness to the horrors that have been inflicted on the Ukrainian people by the Russian military forces.

Both parties are members of Fianna Fáil’s European political party, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) Party, I say political parties but in reality, there are no political parties anymore in Ukraine.

The general feeling is that until all Russian forces are expelled from Ukraine, then political parties are not important. What is important however is their values and in particular, the pro-European progressive values that have united the vast majority of Ukrainian public representatives.

540A0472 The two Irish politicians meet with Ukraine govt on visit to Kyiv. Billy Kelleher Billy Kelleher

After arriving in Kyiv on the overnight train on Monday morning, Senator Dooley and I met with the Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister with responsibility for European partnerships, Olga Stefanishyna to discuss the ongoing situation and to ask what more Europe can do to help the people of Ukraine.

The Deputy PM, the Speaker of the Parliament who we also met, and any MP who we spoke to were unequivocally clear on two primary issues. Russia is engaging in war crimes and in genocide and the war will only end when Russia is deprived of the money it needs to fund its industrial military complex through the banning of the importation of Russian gas into the EU.

Bucha horrors

On Monday, we were taken to the towns of Bucha and Irpin on the outskirts of the Ukrainian capital to bear witness to the horrors inflicted by Russian soldiers.

After speaking with local municipal officials, it is clear that hundreds of people have had their lives taken from them and that women and girls as young as 14 were systematically raped and violated. We saw the removal of bodies from mass graves – killed by Russian soldiers but buried in a hurry by the local community after they were killed in the open. I never thought that this level of depravity, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Yugoslavian Civil War, would be seen in a European country again.

I believe Russia is engaging in war crimes, and Russia is engaging in acts of genocide. The people of Ukraine need answers. There needs to be punishment for the perpetrators and truth for the victims and their families.

540A0641 The two Irish politicians visited Bucha and Irpin. Billy Kelleher Billy Kelleher

However, we need to end the war before we can ever get a true understanding of the level of violence that has been inflicted on the Ukrainian people. To do that we must strangle the Russian economy and remove its ability to wage war.

Our only weapon right now

Upwards of $1 billion dollars has flown into Russian coffers every day since the start of the war. Without this money, the Russian state will not be able to function, let alone wage war. We must be honest with ourselves – EU money is funding the Russian war machine. We have a moral obligation to cut it off.

I won’t deny that it will cause some economic discomfort to us in the European Union. It is estimated that it would cause a 1.4% drop in Eurozone GDP but I would counter that by asking how much worse will our economy decline, and inflation rise, if the war continues for another three, six or 12 months?

We are entering into the summer where considerably less gas is needed to heat homes etc. Now is the time to break the link and find other sources of fuel. The USA and its partners have agreed to provide us with additional LNG supplies.

540A0480 Billy Kelleher Billy Kelleher

This moment in time was always going to happen. Would it ever have been economically advantageous; highly unlikely? However, the moral necessity to ban Russian gas has never been stronger.

The Ukrainian people have found a strength and a unity of purpose that I don’t believe they ever knew they had. The Russian invasion has united political parties and communities like never before.

After this visit, my second to the country, I am more confident than ever that they will ultimately prevail over Russia. However, the cost will be immense. The reconstruction of the country will cost €500-€700 billion and the human cost is unquantifiable. As an MEP, I will not be found wanting in terms of supporting Marshall Plan-like support for Ukraine.

540A0562 Billy Kelleher Billy Kelleher

Families and communities have been devastated and ripped apart. It will take decades for some of the wounds to heal – but not all the wounds can be healed. As a country that has witnessed its own troubles, we must be understanding and conscious of our obligations.

Billy Kelleher is an Irish MEP for Fianna Fáil.

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