Ukraine’s head of state believes the approach to the return of Donbas and Crimea should be balanced and pragmatic. On October 30, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy delivered a speech on the state strategy for the safe reintegration of Donbas and Crimea at the Unity Forum in Mariupol, Donetsk region.
Currently, Ukraine does not have such a strategy. We have gathered the main points the President made about his vision of the process.
"We need peace on our terms"
According to Zelenskyy, Ukraine can assume a strong position if sanctions are maintained. Therefore, the Minsk process is important, where representatives of the OSCE, Ukraine and the Russian Federation discuss the resolution of the conflict in the Donbas, as is the "Normandy format", with the participation of representatives of Germany, France and Russia. The Normandy format meeting is on the cards, but the exact date remains unknown.
"We need to resolve all issues not by telephone, but by looking into each other's eyes to end the war and return our Ukrainian territories. And until that happens, we need to be building a successful and prosperous country,” Zelenskyy said.
On humanitarian policy
In addition to diplomacy, according to the president, information and humanitarian policy on the Donbas and Crimea is a priority. Zelenskyy thinks these policies cannot exist without each other.
There is no point in saying how good it is [to live] in Ukraine, if it does not coincide with reality beyond the checkpoints. Any improvement is insignificant if our citizens plainly do not know about them, and therefore cannot make use of them.
"Crimea disappeared from the media"
Zelenskyy noted that the major Ukrainian media ceased to write about the Crimea at all, and only ever mention the Donbas in the war context.
“Crimea disappeared from the news agenda. Mentions of people in the government-controlled part of Donbas, in one way or another, only concern the war, which puts a negative mark on them. And our citizens from Luhansk and Donetsk, regardless of their attitude to the so-called 'LPR' and 'DPR', without exception are all called 'separ[atists]'. And in official rhetoric, it has already become the norm to say 'residents', 'residents of temporarily occupied territories', with ever fewer mentions of 'residents of Crimea and Donbas'. We say 'citizens of Ukraine' less and less. This is not right. We must not forget this. They should not forget about this."
According to Zelenskyy, if an effective humanitarian policy is a task, first and foremost, of the state, then information policy is a common challenge and a shared responsibility of the authorities, the media and every user of social networks.
"Yes, every single one," the president stressed.
President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy during a speech at the Unity Forum in Mariupol, October 30, 2019. Photo: Presidential Office
"Our information field has been mined"
In addition to the fake news and manipulations, there is also growing anger and aggression. Zelenskyy said that the rhetoric in the Ukrainian information space is full of hatred today: "In my opinion, the whole society should take a deep breath, exhale and speak calmly, rationally, without unnecessary emotions and without unnecessary slogans."
On Ukrainian language as the only state language
It is a mistake to think that tomorrow the inhabitants of the occupied Donbas will speak Ukrainian in Zelenskyy's opinion. An integral part of the reintegration strategy, the head of state believes, is realism: "We must be realistic and not be afraid of the truth."
The importance of shared values
It’s not just language and the historical past that [make] a solid foundation for national unity, Zelenskyy argued.
"Values are the most important thing, they unite us for the common future: the values of freedom, the values of democracy, the values of civil society and the rule of law, the values of a dignified life, goodness, tolerance, integrity, respect for the law, private property, and the most important value that we are losing – respect for each other."
Imagine the following setup: it’s summer, beautiful sunny weather, you are driving to the city of Donetsk with your friends. You are staying at your aunt’s, your father's sister, for instance. You put on your yellow-blue T-shirt, cover yourself with a Ukrainian flag and go outside. You take a selfie on the Kalmius waterfront and talk with foreign tourists. There are thousands of them in Donetsk: Germans, Britons, Spaniards, French. You go down the Artem Street, merging with the crowd in Ukrainian colors and singing “Chervona Ruta” (‘Red Rue’ – popular Ukrainian song from the ’70s – ed.). And then you head to the Donbas Arena [stadium], where the crowded stands sing the [Ukrainian anthem]. And it doesn't matter how that soccer game ended. The important thing is that the setup, which seven years ago was a reality, today seems surreal. The purpose of this forum is to begin the search for the answers to the most difficult, painful and inconvenient questions that each of us and Ukraine [as a whole] are facing.