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On the day The House sat down with Captain Dmytro Donskoi in the Ukrainian embassy in west London, a Russian missile exploded just half a mile from his apartment in Kyiv.
He is visibly furious as he describes the “Nazi” and “genocidal” tactics deployed by Vladimir Putin to target civilians in Ukraine since launching his horrific invasion 18 days ago.
Donskoi, Ukraine’s defence attaché in the UK, says some of his friends have been killed in action but that it’s a price worth paying for freedom.
“We’re ready to fight for our freedom and we’re ready to die for our freedom,” he says. “Freedom for Ukrainians is essential so there is no choice for us: it’s a matter of survival.”
Donskoi and his Ukrainian colleagues at the embassy, which is decorated with flowers, messages of solidarity and blue-and-yellow flags, are watching with shock and rage as towns and cities in their home country are flattened by an unrelenting Russian bombardment, which on the day of our interview (14 March) has killed hundreds of civilians, according to UN figures.
“It’s tough to understand how your closest neighbour, who speaks a similar language to you and whose leader calls Ukraine a brother nation, can kill your people and your children, destroy your infrastructure, hospitals, maternity wards,” says Donskoi.
However, he is defiant.
The Ukrainian resistance that has frustrated Putin’s plan to sweep across the country is showing no signs of wavering, he says, and he thanks “sophisticated” weaponry provided by the UK which has helped do significant damage to Russian forces.
Morale among Ukrainians is high, adds the captain, who says soldiers on the frontline have joked about recent images showing a Russian convoy, many miles in length, stranded en route to Kyiv.
“The joke is that the Russian army isn’t strong, it is long. Ukrainians aren’t just good at fighting, they also have a very good sense of humour.”
But the UK government must go further and fulfil President Zelenskyy’s repeated request for a no-fly zone over Ukraine, urges Donskoi.
The government has up to now refused to commit to stopping Russian military aircraft from entering the country, which in a worst-case scenario would involve shooting down planes, on the grounds that it risks dire escalation and dragging Nato into a direct military conflict with Moscow. Donskoi says this logic is flawed because a world war is already underway, with Putin’s attack on Ukraine just as much an attack on the West in the “insane” leader’s mind.
“The Third World War has already started,” he says, “because it’s a war between values, between civilizations”.
He warns that if Russia manages to take over Ukraine Putin will not stop there and will have his eyes fixed elsewhere in eastern Europe. “In their talk shows they are discussing who will be the next – whether it will be Baltic states or Poland.”
Donskoi is also defiant on what Zelenskyy should be willing to accept in any negotiation with the Kremlin. He describes Russia’s base demands to have greater control over Ukraine, which Putin believes should never have been allowed to break away from the Soviet Union in the early 90s, as “humiliating” and “unacceptable”. He tells The House: “They want us to be neutral, to be demilitarized, to accept Crimea as a Russian territory, and to accept these artificially made republics. It’s bullshit.”
And while negotiation “is always better than fighting,” he stresses no serious talks can take place with Russia if it does not agree to a ceasefire. “Trying to do negotiations while at the same time having your civilian infrastructure attacked is ridiculous,” he says.
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