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Ukrainian MP Alyona Shkrum addressing the Seanad today. Oireachtas TV

'Your friendship and generosity will never be forgotten': Ukrainian MPs praise Ireland's response to war

Lesia Vasylenko, Alyona Shkrum, Rostyslav Tistyk and Dmytro Natalukha addressed the Seanad this afternoon.

A CROSS-PARTY group of Ukrainian MPs have praised Ireland’s response to the war in Ukraine and urged the Government to support their effort to join the European Union in an address to the Seanad today.

Lesia Vasylenko, Alyona Shkrum, Rostyslav Tistyk and Dmytro Natalukha spoke in Irish and quoted Irish historical figures while addressing the Upper House this afternoon at the invitation of Cathaoirleach Mark Daly.

It is the first in-person address by members of the Ukrainian Parliament to another chamber since the invasion began on 24 February.

Vasylenko began in Irish by thanking the Cathaoirleach and the people of Ireland for their support of Ukraine. She said that 20%, or 125,000 square kilometres of the country, is currently occupied by Russian forces.

“That’s almost twice the size of Ireland. Those thousands of kilometres are not just empty fields or cliffs or whatever one might imagine is empty spaces. 125,000 kilometres is 3,500 municipalities, villages, towns, cities, where millions of Ukrainians are forced to live under the Russian flag, and thousands are forced to die for the Ukrainian flag, for the right to be Ukrainian,” she said.

She spoke of mothers having to say goodbye to their babies who are less than six months old, and of fathers who have to live the rest of their lives “with the image of the body of your son, killed.”

Vasylenko chose to send her own three children to stay with a relative away from the war on 1 March.

“The youngest turned one on 1 June. The first three months of my youngest daughter’s life was spent without her mother. My other daughter is seven and she got used to seeing me twice a month just on the weekends when I get the time to visit. My son, every time before I go back to Ukraine, he comes to me with the same question: Why can’t he go back with me? And my answer is always the same. I gave you life. I gave you life to live.

288 Ukrainian children are dead. They have been killed by Russian soldiers. 527 Ukrainian children lie wounded in hospitals, sometimes disabled for life. Today, Putin is stealing the childhood of Ukrainian children.

She also said that 234,000 Ukrainian children have been forcibly removed from Ukraine and taken to Russia. 

Evidence of genocide

“All these are not just stories. All this is evidence of a crime, an international crime, the crime of genocide, that Russia is committing right now in Ukraine against Ukrainians.”

Vasylenko said Ireland is doing “more than their fair share” by cancelling visas and pledging accommodation for refugees fleeing the war.

She called on the country to pass an Act to recognise the Holodomor, the famine in Soviet Ukraine in 1932-33 estimated to have killed up to 7 million people, as genocide.


She also asked the Government to support their bid for EU status and said Ukraine is grateful to Ireland for pushing sanctions against Russia.

“Like no one else, Ireland understands the need for Ukraine to be victorious and for this war to end as quickly as possible for the sake of freedom and democracy.”

Shkrum described hearing her grandmother’s stories of her experience during the Second World War.

“I never really listened to her stories back then, because I saw that her stories about the atrocities which were committed during the Second World War had no place in my world had no place in my future, have no place in our modern sanctuary in the middle of Europe,” she said.

I didn’t really listen, and I couldn’t imagine that in our modern age of Geneva Conventions, international humanitarian law, Budapest Memorandum, drones and cyber warfare and satellites, we would actually have a dictator ordering to kill and target specifically civilians in Europe,to target children, to bomb hospitals kindergartens, and just normal residential areas. This I was not ready for psychologically.

She said Putin is planning to starve to death people in a number of continents “in order to re-establish the so-called Russian Empire”, and using food as a weapon of war. 

“The UN has told us that the politics of starvation and the possible food crisis and famine could be there for more than one billion people in the world. When food is used as weapon, I have almost no words to describe that. 

She added that “unfortunately”, Irish people know “very well” what this is like.

“I think that we should make sure together that this is absolutely the last time any dictator in the world, any country in the world, uses food as weapons. We could not allow that to happen.”

‘Ireland abú’

Shkrum said that Ukrainians are also inspired by Ireland’s history and strength.

“Your friendship and generosity, believe us, will never be forgotten in Ukraine. Ireland has literally set that example of a very high standard of moral leadership for any other country in the world, and in particular, to any other country and nation in Europe to follow,” she said.

“In Ukraine, we say Slava Ukraini, but today I really want to say Ireland abú.”

Tistyk also referenced the Holodomor, saying that thousands died of “artificially-created” hunger and accused Russia of attempting to do the same today.

“They are ready to take away every grain from the Ukrainians and sweeping to doom the whole world to hunger,” he said.

He said Ireland has been on “the side of freedom and justice” with his country since the invasion began.

Screenshot (66) Rostyslav Tistyk addressing the Seanad. Oireachtas TV Oireachtas TV

“You never hesitated whether to support us. As a representative of the parliament of Ukrainian, I’m sure that every Ukrainian heartily appreciates your aid, your support and your standing with Ukraine,” he said.

He said hundreds of Ukrainians are dying every day protecting their native country, and that we all have to do the utmost to protect the country’s future.

Natalukha quoted Bobby Sands during his speech, and said that Ukraine and Ireland were both very proud and stubborn nations. 

“You might have noticed this in the last couple of months of war of a country of 114 million against a country of 14 million. In fact, a friend of mine who died defending Mariupol was ready to eat dog food and drink dirty water from puddles for months, but was not ready to give up his freedom even for a second. He never did,” he said.

Rebuilding Ukraine

He said Ukraine intends to be “as stubborn as possible” in rebuilding their country “in a manner that the wildest dreams and aspirations of those who have sacrificed their lives would be realised”.

He praised Ireland for its hospitality and thanked Kingspan, the building materials company based in Co Cavan, who he said are set to invest €200 million in the country.

We want to be a nation of partners, and for this very reason I’m here to tell you that we see the reconstruction of Ukraine as a joint venture and not as a charity project. We want to be fair and kind to everyone who has been fair and kind to us.

Cathaoirleach Mark Daly said the delegation is visiting Ireland to ask for support from politicians and the public.

“They are asking Ireland to be a supporter of Ukraine’s membership of the European Union and be advocates for their membership, which we are,” Daly said.

“We will talk to our colleagues across Europe to support that application and support refugees and the non-military aid, which we will continue to give to Ukraine and their people.

“We have spoken to members of Congress and other parliamentarians across the world to ensure the fight that is going on in Ukraine, is not just a fight for the people of Ukraine but a fight for all of Europe and its values.”

Daly, who visited Ukraine in May where he met the country’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said the Ukrainians are “putting up a fight” against the Russians.

“They cannot do this on their own. They need the support of Europe and the world,” he added.

With reporting from the Press Association.

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