Ambassador of Ukraine to Spain
“Chilling”, “atrocity”, “barbarism”, the Ukrainian ambassador, Serhii Pohoreltsev, has run out of words to describe the discovery of the mass graves in the city of Izium. Satisfaction at the military progress achieved is mixed with sadness at this act, which he does not hesitate to describe as “terrorist” and “genocide”, throughout the conversation we have in his office.
Will your Government take this case before international tribunals as a war crime?
As in the case of Bucha and other towns on the outskirts of the capital, the discovery of these mass graves was only possible after the liberation of this ancient city. So far, 440 corpses have been found in the mass grave hidden in the forest. Among them children. The remains of dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war have also been found. All with signs of torture prior to execution. The Russian invaders tortured the residents of Izium in the dungeons, which have been identified.
What happened in Bucha and Izium are acts of genocide. In both cases the invaders killed civilians en masse. The Russian troops are following a pattern that indicates a premeditated policy of extermination of those who identify themselves as Ukrainians. This is the essence of the so-called ‘denazification’ which Putin talks about, disseminated by Russian propaganda and approved by the majority of the chauvinist Russian population.
In every town liberated by the Ukrainian army, more evidence of the atrocities committed by the Russian invaders is uncovered. I fear that the scale of the extermination of the civilian population in the south will exceed the barbarities we have witnessed so far.
As for the international tribunals on war crimes committed by Russia in Ukraine, teams of investigators from many countries have been working for some time now to collect evidence and testimonies that will form the dossier to be handed over to the International Criminal Court. It is our duty to bring Russia and its terrorist troops to account. ‘Ruscism’ (Russian fascism) must be condemned. We reiterate that it is important to officially recognise Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism and to increase sanctions against this aggressor state for its crimes. In this context, the creation of a Special International Criminal Court will allow to judge the crime of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.
What will happen after the success of your troops in Kharkiv?
We are having successes in our counter-offensive. And they would be even greater if we had all the weapons we need. True, we have modern, long-range weapons supplied by our friends, but it is still not enough. Our forces continue to advance and have already liberated almost 400 towns. Our ultimate goal is to liberate all our territories, including the Crimean peninsula. Only then we will be able to put an end to the war.
What kind of weapons do you mean?
We need more heavy weapons, artillery and tanks, to continue the counteroffensive. And we also need more anti-aircraft defences and aircrafts to protect the civilian population. Every day Russia is bombarding our cities with missiles and we still can’t cover our airspace. We know that we do not depend only on ourselves. We are on the front line of the battle between good and evil, between the West and Putin’s regime.
Are you satisfied with Spain’s assistance? You complained a month ago that it was not enough.
We are working intensively with the Defence and Foreign ministries. I have no doubt that the Sánchez government has the political will to help us. What some media interpreted as complaints were not complaints. I said that we were grateful for what they have done but that we would not be satisfied until our armed forces had everything they needed. That was the idea, but these were not complaints. We very much appreciate the help from Spain, which is one of the leading contributors to the reconstruction, providing EUR 250 million through the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. And I am very pleased with the recent supply of ammunition for 155mm howitzers and winter equipment, which has covered several of our needs.
Is there no possibility of negotiations with Russia now?
Not at the moment. It is Putin who does not really want it. His positions are unrealistic. Besides, we can’t trust what he says. What he signs is worthless.
What is the mood of your compatriots right now?
The liberation of these territories has cheered up our people. Our soldiers and the civilian population are highly motivated. In contrast, the Russian armed forces are not motivated, many do not want to participate in this war any more. And this is reflected in their public opinion. Many Russians still support Putin, but they have to see the reality, get out of the propaganda and start reacting. And I think the Russian oligarchs themselves will eventually have to do something to end the war. Because they themselves suffer, they lose their money and although they are very close to Putin, they depend on him and their business as well.
In St. Petersburg and other cities they have proposed to the Duma to start a trial against Putin. Do you think it is possible?
That would be a good thing. But our hope and our security is based in our armed forces, in our president and in our government, which in the most difficult times have always been in place. The president has been an example and, despite the fact that we were given days to see occupied our capital, not only this did not happen, but our forces pushed back the Russian forces, liberating territories near Kyiv. Putin’s initial plan did not work.
The leader of the Russian Communist Party, Gennady Zyuganov, has called for a war declaration on Ukraine and general mobilisation. Are you worried?
There is already a covert mobilisation underway in Russia. But if they decree a general mobilisation, I think it would be bad because more people will die. Russian losses are enormous, and they will have even more because the troops they can mobilise will be less experienced than those already fighting.
However, thinking that the war will end soon is too hasty, isn’t it?
Yes, this is only the beginning. We will do everything to liberate our territory as soon as possible, but it will take time because unfortunately we don’t have all the weapons we need and because Russia still has a lot of military potential. The truth is our weapon. So to say that in a few weeks or months we will win is not real. We have to be realistic and the world has to understand that it must not stop supporting Ukraine.
When the war is over, reconstruction will have to start. How long will it take?
Reconstruction has already started in the areas where it is possible. We already have a reconstruction plan that was presented in Lugano. There Spain announced a Spanish contribution of 250 million euros. The plan has three stages. In the first, the most urgent, work is already underway to rebuild critical infrastructure. The second stage will begin when we liberate all our territories. The workload is enormous. There are 86,000 destroyed infrastructures: factories, hospitals, residential areas, roads, bridges, high voltage lines, houses, schools, churches… The amount of destruction is enormous. And we will have even more because the bombing is still going on all over the country. In the third phase, other, less urgent infrastructures, health or academic, are expected to be put in place. But that will take longer.
How much money will it cost?
It has been estimated that we will need about 350 billion dollars. We are already rebuilding 13% of critical infrastructure with our own means. But we cannot do it on our own. That’s why we need foreign companies. We have funds from our budget and European funds. And we have a board, composed of 15 Europeans and 5 Ukrainians, to ensure full transparency in the procurement process. The greater the number of participating companies, the faster we will act. And my idea is to involve as many Spanish companies as possible.
I have had many contacts, among others with Sercobe. A few days ago we had a very productive conference with managers from 40 Spanish companies. We presented a plan for the reconstruction of all sectors. There is work for everyone. I think Spanish companies are among the best because of their quality of work, they are very competitive. That is why I see many possibilities for them to enter the Ukrainian market to participate in the reconstruction. We already have the mechanism for participation and we are going to facilitate the procedures for the presentation of projects. And we are also working at the regional level and signing twinning agreements between cities.
Do you fear a catastrophe in Zaporiyia?
It is a big risk. It is occupied by Russian military units who continue to bomb the neighbouring territory. They are blackmailing everyone. An explosion of the reactors would be like an atomic bomb, not only for Ukraine but for the whole world. They must vacate the plant and return control to Ukrainian specialists. There is a great risk. It’s not just a question of condemning the occupation, but also of doing everything possible to get the Russians out of there.
Do you think Russia could resort to tactical nuclear weapons?
If a guy like Putin has nuclear weapons, it’s a big risk. I would like to say it will never happen, but who would have thought two years ago that he would attack us in such a way? That risk is always going to exist. What I will tell you is that Putin is totally cut off from the civilised world. He can never occupy Ukraine. He is in a tunnel with no way out. Someone told me that he is like a downed pilot flying a powerful plane.
Will EU accession negotiations start soon?
We are ready. We confirmed our intention to meet the seven entry requirements and to fulfil the four freedoms. We have obtained candidate status. We are already part of the European family. There are no obstacles now. It is time to start and with the support of our partners we will succeed.
And will Ukraine resign NATO’s membership?
The path to NATO membership is a constitutional norm and the absolute majority of Ukrainians, 72 per cent, support the idea of Ukraine’s integration into the Alliance as soon as possible.
What will happen to the civilian population, including children, who have been forcibly deported?
We will do everything we can to get them back. More than 300,000 children were forcibly transferred to Russia or to occupied areas. That is a crime. And it is the same for adults. They are being forced to accept Russian passports. We will use all international legal means to get back the people who were forcibly deported.
Will this war change relations between Russians and Ukrainians?
This is another of Putin’s great crimes: breaking up families. How will these families recover? People in Ukraine are suffering and I hope that people living in Russia will gradually understand this. But I don’t see that the relationship can go back to the way it was before the war. Putin and his regime are to blame.