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4 December 2023

Ukraine delegation in SA to strengthen ties between two countries

Source: IOL

Several Ukrainian delegates arrived in South Africa this week on a mission to deepen relations and seek new opportunities for partnerships.

The delegation, who spent time in Pretoria and Johannesburg, hopes to seek South African support for peace building and ending Russia’s war crimes, including the arbitrary killing of civilians and the illegal deportation of Ukrainian children.

Among the delegates who visited the country included the Metropolitan (Archbishop) Zoria of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Professor Olexiy Haran, National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, and Anastasiia Kapranova, of the Ukrainian Institute.

Delegate Kateryna Rashevska, a legal expert at the Regional Center for Human Rights in Ukraine, met with representatives from South African human rights organisations this week, including the International Commission for Jurists, to discuss how South African expertise can assist in finding justice for victims of war crimes.

Rashevska said the visit to South Africa was crucial.

“Russia’s goal is to use children as a weapon, as a bargaining position. Under international law, Russia must provide information about all deported children to the International Committee of the Red Cross, but they refuse to do this,” said Rashevska. “South Africa can play a big part in putting international pressure on Russia to return Ukrainian children and then support us through the provision of legal expertise to help us prosecute those responsible for committing international crimes in our country.”

Metropolitan (Archbishop) Zoria, told Independent Media that the delegation had come to South Africa to foster greater understanding between the two countries and to build a closer relationship.

“Our mission is three-fold: To inform. Ukrainians and South Africans live on opposite sides of the planet and we rarely get the chance to meet and find out about each other’s lives.”

“We are here to help South Africans understand Ukraine better – our history, our culture, our society and, of course, our fight to defend ourselves against Russia’s invasion of our country.”

“We are also here to learn. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has had a huge impact on the whole world, including South Africa. We are here to listen to you to better understand how your lives have been affected. Beyond the war, we want also to learn about your history, culture and society, to better understand your own lived experience.”

“We are also eager to build new partnerships. South Africa and Ukraine share many of the same values and also the same challenges. There are so many areas where we can work together, across business, culture, academia, and the environment, to name just a few.”

Zoria added that the visit to South Africa was of utmost importance.

“Ukraine and South Africa share the same values – we both believe in the sovereignty of nations.”

“We both believe in democracy and that countries have the right to decide their own future, free from foreign interference.”

“These values are what Ukraine is fighting for and South Africa is a natural partner in our struggle.”

“South Africa is an incredibly important country, a leader among African nations and an increasingly important power on the global stage. What South Africa says and does matters.”

“South Africa has strong relationships with both Ukraine and with Russia. You are uniquely positioned to encourage President Putin to do what is right – to stop killing Ukrainian people; to stop committing war crimes, including the illegal abduction and deportation of Ukrainian children; and to withdraw its troops from our country, respect our internationally recognised sovereign borders and bring this war to an end.”

“And beyond the war, we believe that South Africa and Ukraine can do much more together.”

“We can collaborate to build a safer, more prosperous and equitable future. During our time in South Africa we hope to identify opportunities for partnerships and establish what we hope will become long-standing relationships with South African institutions that will yield great benefits to both our countries and to the wider world.”

Zoria added that the delegation would be meeting with a wide range of people and organisations across South African politics, civil society, academia and religious institutions and engaging with journalists to spread the word about their mission and talking about what is happening in Ukraine.

“We are scheduled to meet the Centre for Human Rights at Pretoria University, and the Centre for Child Law to discuss how we can work together to further protect human rights in Ukraine and around the world and to safeguard children.”

“The Institute for Security Studies and the University of South Africa, to discuss academic cooperation and joint research into subjects relevant to both Ukraine and South Africa’s future security and international relations.”

“Cultural institutions, including the Constitutional Hill Trust, the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra and the National Arts Festival to discuss potential artistic or cultural exchanges and cooperation of future cultural projects.”

“We will also visit religious institutions, including the South African Council of Churches, to discuss how religion can play an important role in achieving a just and fair peace in Ukraine.”

“We are also looking forward to meeting ordinary South Africans from all walks of life, seeing some of the sights around Johannesburg and Pretoria, and getting a better understanding of life in South Africa.”

Rashevska, from the Regional Centre for Human Rights, has also given a glimpse into what life has been like in Ukraine following the invasion of Russia.

“Our country is at war. Until Russian forces withdraw from our country, until all our people and territory is liberated and until we build back from the destruction that Russia has caused, life will not return to normal,” said Rashevska.

“Even then, we will still be grieving for the tens of thousands of Ukrainians murdered by Russia, with yet more dealing with life-changing injuries and the psychological scars inflicted by Russia’s war crimes.”

“For now, nowhere in Ukraine is safe. Russia continues to attack our cities across the country.”

“Just last week, Russia launched another air strike on Kyiv. Other cities are bombarded daily.”

“But despite this, life does indeed carry on. Ukrainians are resilient and we do not let Russia’s invasion stop us from moving forward.”

“For example, our farmers continue to work the land, growing and harvesting grain and wheat – a vital source of food for countries across the world, including Africa.”

“Russia’s ending of the Black Sea Grain Initiative has made it harder to get food to those who need it, but Ukraine is still managing to get some supplies out via other routes and our Grain From Ukraine programme is still working hard to get food to those who need it most, particularly in Africa.”

Rashevska said it was important that Ukraine gets full support from South Africa.

“South Africa has made several important statements of support for Ukraine since the full-scale invasion for which we are very grateful.”

“Immediately following Russia’s invasion South Africa’s Department for International Relations and Cooperation published a statement, saying: “South Africa calls on Russia to immediately withdraw its forces from Ukraine in line with the United Nations Charter, which enjoins all member states to settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice are not endangered.”

“South Africa emphasises respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states.”

“We welcome these sentiments.”

“More recently, in June this year, President Cyril Ramaphosa visited both Kyiv and Moscow, underlining South Africa’s commitment to ending the war.”

“And more recently still, President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked President Ramaphosa for his support for efforts to return children illegally deported by Russia.

“We hope South Africa can do more to help us achieve a fair and just peace and provide diplomatic support across a range of issues, further pushing Russia to: stop the deliberate targeting of Ukrainian civilians. Reinstitute the Black Sea Grain Initiative and so guarantee vital food supplies for the world.”

“We need troops to withdraw from the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, so reducing the risk of nuclear disaster, return Ukrainian civilians, including children, that have been forcibly deported to Russia and exchange prisoners of war.”

“We also want the release of Ukrainian civilians that have been unlawfully detained. Condemn Russia’s deliberate attempts to erase Ukrainian culture and identity. Support efforts to hold war criminals to account – there can be no peace without justice.”

“We also call for Russia to pay reparations for the billions of dollars of damage they have caused to Ukraine.”

“Above all, we hope South Africa will renew calls for Russia to withdraw from all Ukrainian territory and end the war.”

Asked what the Ukrainian delegation has made of what is currently unfolding in the Middle East, the delegation said they condemn the terror, killing of civilians and war crimes wherever they take place.

“We condemn the terror, killing of civilians and war crimes wherever they take place and no matter who commits them,” said Professor Olexiy Haran, from the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy.

“In Ukraine, we know only too well the pain and suffering caused by war and we stand with the innocent victims, no matter what their nationality.”

“Ukraine traditionally was and is in favour of two-state solution, and it recognised the State of Palestine in 1988.”

“I urge the international community to do everything in its power to help achieve a fair and just peace in the Middle East just as I call for them to help us in Ukraine to achieve the same.”

“I can say that in Ukraine, our country was, in 2014, invaded by Russia without provocation, trampling on our sovereign rights that are enshrined in the UN charter. Peace in Ukraine can only be achieved when Russia stops killing our people and withdraws from our territory.”

Haran says Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has destroyed the country.

“Sadly, Russian aggression is not new for us in Ukraine.”

“It is important to remember that the invasion began in 2014, when Russia invaded Crimea. The people there have been suffering ever since, with hundreds illegally detained and many forced to flee.”

“But even though we had lived with Russian aggression for many years, the full-scale invasion in February last year was utterly devastating.”

“We suddenly realised that Putin really did mean to wipe Ukraine from existence. He continuously says that Ukrainians do not exist as a nation separate from Russia.”

“This is no abstract game of geopolitical chess. Ukrainians are dying every day. Every third Ukrainian (that is about 12-13 million) has been forced to flee their home.”

Aside from gaining South Africa’s support, the delegation also aims to strengthen cultural relations between Ukraine and South Africa, exploring opportunities to showcase Ukrainian artists in South Africa and build partnerships with art, music and literature festivals, museums, and other cultural institutions.

Anastasiia Kapranova, Programme Manager for South Africa, Kenya, and Nigeria at the Ukrainian Institute, said strengthening cultural relations was important.

“Ukrainian culture is flourishing despite Russia’s attempts to wipe it out. By targeting our cultural sites, destroying our archives, illegally detaining artists and other cultural figures, Russia is deliberately trying to erase our very identity,” said Kapranova.

“They will not succeed. South Africans know from the darkest days of apartheid how attempts to suppress a people’s culture will never succeed. As South African artists did for decades, now Ukrainian artists, writers, philosophers, singers, and actors have all found their voice in adversity and are producing some amazing works of art, inspired by our struggle.”

“South Africa is a cultural giant and there is so much opportunity for artists in both our countries to collaborate, to share ideas and create art to inspire the world.”

“On the day I arrived in South Africa on this visit, I was lucky enough to visit NIROX sculpture park, an incredible place, set amidst the most beautiful natural environment and where I got to see some very special works of art. I am discussing with them how we can work together to showcase Ukrainian arts and maybe even arrange an artistic exchange.”

“During the rest of my time in South Africa, I will be meeting with institutions across the South African cultural sphere, including the Constitutional Hill Trust, the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra and the National Arts Festival and I am excited about the sorts of joint projects we might be able to do together.”

Saturday Star