Unhappy Ukrainians bridle over Sabina Higgins’ ceasefire advice – The Irish Times

On Wednesday, a letter from Sabina Higgins, the wife of President Michael D Higgins was published in The Irish Times where she warned that the Ukraine war would continue until both countries agreed to a ceasefire and entered negotiations.

Criticizing an Irish Times editorial published on July 20th, Mrs Higgins said she was “disappointed” and “dismayed” that it did not “encourage any ceasefire negotiations that might lead to a positive settlement”.

In the days since, the parts of the Ukrainian population in Ireland that have so far seen Mrs Higgins’ words have quietly seen, even if they have been reluctant to enter into a public controversy with the spouse of the head of State.

Michael Baskin, who has lived in Ireland for 20 years and leads the Ukrainian Crisis Center in Ireland said he has spent time since the letter was published trying “to understand what Sabina Higgins was trying to say. Ukraine never wanted this war. I will give a simple example. Somewhere in Ireland someone came to your house, killed your family, and tried to take it from you. Will you negotiate? Like, take a half of it and let’s live like this. It’s ridiculous. We can’t give up our country’s future. If we don’t stop Russia now Ukraine won’t exist in 20 years.”

Baskin quickly insists that he accepts that Mrs Higgins “doesn’t have bad intentions” towards Ukraine, or its people, but he said it is part of “a narrative” that is “for all good, and against all bad”.

The letter was also published on the Áras an Uachtaráin website this week but, by Friday evening, the letter was no longer visible on the site. The Irish Times sought a comment from the Áras on Friday night about the apparent removal of the letter but received no response.

A Ukrainian MP was among those to criticize Mrs Higgins’ letter, describing it as “underinformed”.

Speaking on Newstalk radio on Friday, Kira Rudik, a Ukrainian politician and current leader of the political party Voice, said: “It is not enough for one side to want peace, it needs to be mutual. When we have a country like Russia that attacks another sovereign country what kind of negotiations can be there?

“What is written in the letter is: Let’s make peace so we will allow a bully, an aggressive country to get away with what they have done.”

For his part, Baskin said Russia could not be trusted as recent history showed.

“They signed a document about seed export and after less than 24 hours they attacked Odesa port. They systematically violate international law. Everybody understands that peace is what Ukraine needs. But under which conditions? Russia occupied 20 per cent of Ukraine. These territories are larger than Ireland itself in general. Should we give up our territory?

“People who write letters like this don’t understand that it doesn’t work this way. Russia’s appetite increases all the time. They don’t want Ukraine to exist at all.”

Sabina Higgins raised fears that the war could provoke famine, he said.

“Today’s world depends on Russia’s gas and oil. Now they have territories where we grow seeds. And the world will depend on Russia more and more. We know Russia’s policy, they will manipulate. It’s also a question of our dignity. We lost our territories, and we want them back. They say: ‘a bad peace is still better than war’. But there will be war, again and again. It’s the freedom we fight for.”

Like other Ukrainians living abroad, Baskin first heard about the invasion when he started getting messages on WhatsApp and Facebook in the early hours of the opening day of the invasion.

Ever since, he and scores of other long-established Ukrainians have led the community’s efforts to help the tens of thousands who have fled and come to Ireland.

In her letter, Mrs Higgins said the fighting in Ireland’s 1916 Rising, in the War of Independence and “in our tragic Civil War” had all “ended by a ceasefire being called, followed by negotiation”.

However, Mr Baskin disagreed: “Signing peace does not always mean peace. There is a stereotype in the world that Russia and Ukraine are brother nations. Irish people must understand like no other that it’s not true. Many people thought back in 1916 that the Irish and British are brothers, but they are not. Another important thing is why do people ask Ukrainians to stop? Why not Russians? They started this war, they are aggressors.

Anatoli Prymakov, aged 30, who has lived in Ireland for 15 years, said: “It’s very easy to call for peace when you live in safe and comfortable conditions for a very long time. Those people aren’t realistic and don’t understand that Ukrainians now don’t have a choice.”

From the Donbas, Prymakov said people here “just don’t understand how war can be. Luckily, they don’t have that life experience. They live a carefree life and they believe that Russia has some reasons to attack. Some people don’t believe and don’t want to believe that there are military crimes in Europe in the 21st century.”

Ukrainians and Russians are not, and never were “brother nations,” he said. “We do have a common history. But it wasn’t a Ukrainian choice. It was a colonial policy of Russia that banned the Ukrainian language and culture so many times. It killed Ukrainian intellectuals and killed millions of Ukrainians by artificial hunger. We are standing for our freedom now. It’s Ukrainian independence that is at stake.”

Ukrainian refugee Nina Mishchenko, aged 41, paraphrased former Israeli prime minister Golda Meyer: “If Russia lays down its arms, there will be no war. If Ukraine lays down its arms, there will be no Ukraine. That is why Ukrainians have not wished each other peace for a long time — they only wish victory. And we won’t settle for less,” she said. She added that she was grateful to Ireland for recognizing Russia’s actions as illegal and an act of genocide.

“But the more Ukraine wins at the front, the more aid we receive, and the more Russia starts talking about negotiations and peace. Ukraine’s main condition in these negotiations is very simple, Russian troops must leave the country and after that, it will be possible to resume the peace process. Russia sees peace in a completely different way — it is the surrender of Ukraine,” she said

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