Ireland must use its voice and “be the champion of European integration for Ukraine”, according to the country’s deputy prime minister Olha Stefanishyna.
Ms Stefanishyna flew into Dublin Airport last night as the 2022 Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) congress takes place in Dublin this weekend.
In February, ALDE granted temporary affiliate status to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s party, Servant of the People, and its full membership will be discussed at this weekend’s party council.
Ms Stefanishyna is deputy prime minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration of Ukraine and said uniting with other liberal parties in Europe was “absolutely important” in her country’s step towards EU membership.
Speaking exclusively to the Irish Independent, she said: “We declared our willingness to be part of the liberal family because of the spirit and nature of our party. We are all relatively young, our president is one of the youngest in Europe and he has no need to be introduced now as the whole world understands him as a symbol of democracy, a symbol of freedom, a symbol of the fight and resistance.”
Ms Stefanishyna said she hoped to meet the prime minister of Luxembourg this weekend in Dublin ahead of discussions on Ukraine’s EU application.
“We will start reconsidering the European project as it is,” she added. “We are literally writing the new history and we want this to be a history of democracy, a history of success, a history of a new, stronger Europe and I think without Ukraine and the unity among the leaders around Europe it is impossible to be done. So we are happy that the first tab of uniting our liberal efforts is absolutely important.
“I hope the spirit of being one together in the political family will bring more positive news for us.”
The deputy PM said she has no frustration or disappointments relating to Ukraine’s EU application, and that any concerns were “microconcerns”.
“Although there is a lot of skepticism and we are hearing different messages from the different capitals, we have the mandate from our people – 91pc of Ukrainian people support membership to the EU,” she said.
“We have enormous support among EU citizens, more than 66pc support joining Ukraine to EU. Now 6.5 million are already living within the European Union and they have gotten to know us much better over these tragic times of war.
"Although I can’t confirm so far that we haven’t heard any significant argument against our aspiration, mostly it’s microconcerns.”
Ms Stefanishyna said support in Ireland had been “enormous” but she encouraged everyone to continue to use their voices to support Ukraine.
“I think that Ireland is among those countries which is the unusual suspect in supporting European aspirations of Ukraine,” she said.
“We will have a lot to do together, you have already been a welcoming country for our people, a strong supporter on the consensus on various types of restrictive measures, this is an enormous support but please be vocal, please be the champion of European integration for Ukraine. Your voice matters a lot.”
Asked what her views are on an EU army, the deputy PM said: “Everything is now subjected to a question and we cannot clearly give the answers to all of these questions, but we should take small steps and make the decisions which are absolutely essential.”
However, she said Ukraine was undergoing a “historical transformation” and an ambitious agenda should be proposed.
“The enormous coordination in terms of our efforts with military assistance has also paved the way for the new format of defence,” Ms Stefanishyna said.
“This is a historical transformation, this is not EU, not a Nato format, these are the ministers of defence who coordinated their efforts to overcome the oppression, so I think we should learn the lessons we are learning on a daily basis from this war taking place in my country, on my soil, and we should propose an ambitious agenda.
“It might be a new security and defence policy of the EU… but there should not be ambiguity or hesitation.”
The deputy PM said she was “really grateful” to Irish people who had hosted Ukrainian refugees.
“We are amazed at the enormous hospitality and love and care which our people feel in the capitals of European countries, in particular in Ireland, in France, in those neighbouring countries,” she said,
“And it is an amazing feeling when you know people are undergoing such suffering and they had to leave their countries. I am a mother myself and whenever I feel this care of our people I feel like my children, the children of our country, has been treated well and it’s very important.
“I am really grateful to all Irish people who hosted warmly Ukrainian people, our people who desperately want to come back home to their land, their houses, and the country they know and love. But so far, unfortunately, there is no peaceful land on our territory and we are very grateful to all the people who have shown love and hospitality and care to those people who are now living on your soil.”