I woke up this morning in another world. A world where peace in Europe, my continent, no longer exists.
Growing up in the European Union always meant security for me. Security from conflict and war. The first time this basic trust was shaken was in 2013, when a wave of civil unrest and demonstrations began in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. The government at the time sought to suppress the pro-European protests and more than 80 people were killed.
That was the first time I realized that peace can never be taken for granted, and it really came home to me quite how shaky the foundations are on which we stand as human beings and as citizens of the EU.
Today a conflict has broken out that I cannot understand. War is never the solution, because it will always have catastrophic consequences for those caught up in it: death, suffering, hunger and poverty, displacement, and the violation of basic human rights.
For us in Europe, who not long ago were going about our business, grumbling as we got the latest COVID-19 measures, to face conflict and the powerlessness and helplessness that comes with it now is indescribable.
And I am not alone in my bewilderment: many Europeans have expressed their solidarity on social media and are sharing their own experiences — as Ukrainians in the country, abroad, or as friends, family, and loved ones of those affected.
This is a new reality for us, and for the 45 million people in Ukraine — many of whom woke up this morning to explosions, as the Russian military attacked the country from various sides. A friend tells me her family has packed up all their belongings and left their apartment — taking shelter with a family friend while they come up with a plan to get to Poland by the safest route.
What must life have been like for people in Ukraine over the last few weeks as they sat at home thinking, "I need to get ready to flee. What do I pack? What do I leave here? How much money should I carry? Who should I contact? Will I see my home again?”
Meanwhile, images of people fleeing the country are beginning to flood our social media feeds. I check the news ticker every few minutes, but I still can't fathom it. Right now it is most important that we as Europeans and Global Citizens come together, help our neighbors, and send a strong signal that this military action must stop, now.
Amid all this, it gives me hope to see the immediate response of solidarity from across Europe, from citizens taking action to do what they can to help, to the statements pouring in from European political representatives.
As European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said this morning, “this is one of Europe’s darkest hours since World War II.”
We strongly condemn Russia´s unjustified attack on Ukraine.— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) February 24, 2022
In these dark hours, our thoughts are with Ukraine and the innocent women, men and children as they face this unprovoked attack and fear for their lives.
We will hold the Kremlin accountable.
France's President Emmanuel Macron has made clear his country’s solidarity with Ukraine, highlighting his intention to work with allies to end this conflict. Pedro Sánchez, Spain's prime minister, also says he will work closely with EU and NATO partners to coordinate a joint response.
La France est solidaire de l’Ukraine. Elle se tient aux côtés des Ukrainiens et agit avec ses partenaires et alliés pour que cesse la guerre.— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) February 24, 2022
The Government of Spain condemns Russia's aggression against Ukraine and expresses its solidarity with the Ukrainian Government and its people.— Pedro Sánchez (@sanchezcastejon) February 24, 2022
I remain in close contact with our partners and allies in the European Union and @NATO to coordinate our response.
Sweden condemns in the strongest terms Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Russia’s acts are also an attack on the European security order. It will be met by a united and robust response in solidarity with Ukraine. Russia alone is responsible for human suffering.— SwedishPM (@SwedishPM) February 24, 2022
🇺🇦 Overnight developments in Ukraine - however anticipated - are appalling and horrific. The Kremlin must face the severest consequences for this unprovoked aggression. And the world must stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine #StandWithUkraine— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) February 24, 2022
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has made it clear that Putin is breaking international law with this attack; while German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock condemned the attack, announcing that the EU, NATO, and G7 will coordinate to take action against Russia with extensive sanctions.
Vitally, as Baerbock said, echoing the sentiments being felt all over Europe: "We are all stunned this morning, but we are not helpless."
There is a burning sense across Europe and indeed the world of people’s desire to help. It makes me realize we are not alone, in an ever more interconnected world, where a catastrophe in one nation ripples out into the hearts and minds of people across the world.
After World War II, Europe decided to achieve lasting peace. Ukraine is an essential part of that — a free and sovereign country — and a whole continent is shocked, angry, afraid, and disbelieving of what is happening here right now.
The Ukrainian capital Kyiv is only about 1,200 kilometers away from where I am, in Berlin. Many of us in the EU have friends, family, or colleagues in Ukraine who are thinking about ways to leave their country as we speak. Germany, Poland, and other EU countries are preparing to receive large numbers of refugees.
As someone who was born in Odessa, my heart truly breaks for the people of #Ukraine. All those who care about peace, freedom and rule of law, must show solidarity with Ukraine, in the face of this relentless, wanton and criminal aggression by #Putin’s Russia! #IStandWithUkrainepic.twitter.com/Z5242J3mVR— Arsen Ostrovsky (@Ostrov_A) February 24, 2022
All over Europe, people are signaling their support for Ukraine, with people filling the streets for demonstrations across many cities. At this moment, it is infinitely important to express our solidarity with the people of Ukraine in any way we can — especially as Global Citizens.
That is why today I will stand with many other Europeans in front of the Brandenburg Gate and raise my voice — for peace, solidarity, and justice.