Since last November, the people of Ukraine have been striving to define their own future. In the process, they have become a symbol of courage and peaceful change for the whole world. The international community remains united for Ukraine, respecting Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and giving its citizens the space and the support to help them determine how their country will be run and what their choices will be.
Last November in Kyiv, a small group gathered to tell their President that they wanted their voices heard. He had made a political decision not to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union. They disagreed, and they told him so publicly. That public protest swelled to the tens of thousands. Their voices rose up to protest more than a political decision. Through the cold winter, citizens from the entire country stood together on the Maidan to urge an end to corruption in their country, more economic participation by hard-working citizens instead of shadowy secret business dealings, and true constitutional protections.
This is not just about Ukraine. It is about basic principles that govern relations among nations in the 21st century. As President Obama stated in Belgium on March 26, this is a “moment of testing for Europe and the United States, and for the international order that we have worked for generations to build.” This order is based on a set of core principles that include respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity. Just because Russia has a deep history with Ukraine does not mean it should be able to dictate Ukraine’s future. On March 27, one hundred countries aligned in the U.N. General Assembly in support of the fundamental principles of the U.N. Charter, in support of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and against Russia’s illegal actions.
Another important point: Political activism in Ukraine today, as on the Maidan through the winter, includes all nationalities and all religions that make up multi-ethnic Ukraine. The people of Ukraine—Ukrainian, Russian, and Tartar speakers alike—have the right to determine their future as a sovereign and democratic nation.
Social media gives us access to understand these opinions firsthand. We need only to watch their videos, view their photographs or read their blogs, circulating the globe via a vibrant and open social media. A free and unfettered Internet has given these Ukrainian voices a global reach, so that even here in Liberia we can see and hear and read for ourselves what the citizens of Ukraine have been striving to achieve.
The President, against whom the first small protest was organized, disappeared for seven days and eventually left his country. The democratically-elected representatives of the people of Ukraine responded to fill the leadership vacuum created by Yanukovich’s cowardice, organizing a temporary, technocratic interim government and early, responsibly-organized elections. In April that interim government will propose economic and political reforms that ensure a voice to each citizen of Ukraine. In May, the population of Ukraine will elect a new president with a mandate to build the future Ukraine that all of its people want.
Meanwhile, in Crimea, Russia has torn down and discarded the international legal order and thrown away the very notion of the rule of law. A forced, rushed, and illegal “referendum,” against the backdrop of a foreign military intervention, was used to justify a blatant land grab by a neighboring country. That precedent cannot stand. Crimea is Ukraine. The border recognized in the Ukrainian constitution is the border of sovereign Ukraine. The world has not been fooled into belief that a referendum engineered by Russia somehow justifies what is simply a land grab by force. We do so not to keep Russia down, but because the principles that have meant so much to Europe and the world must be lifted up. The United States, Liberia, and the world, have an interest in a strong and responsible Russia, not a weak one.
In the coming weeks and months, from Kyiv to Washington to Monrovia, the world must continue to stand up for the rights of brave people everywhere who stand up to a corrupt and authoritarian leader. The citizens of Ukraine have asked for our support as they come together to define their reforms and run their elections. For the sake of a Europe whole, free and at peace, we all need to stand together, united for Ukraine.
By Deborah R. Malac, U.S. Ambassador to Liberia