The Ukrainian parliamentarian and president of his country's national Paralympic Committee, Valeriy Sushkevych, talks to DW about where he thinks Ukraine is headed in the coming months.
DW: What’s the atmosphere like on the ground in Ukraine right now?
Valeriy Sushkevych: The situation in Ukraine is not very optimistic. Many people are emotional; they are depressed and angry towards our neighbor, Russia. Everyday, Ukrainian’s go online or turn on the TV to watch the news to get more information about the situation that is happening to the south and north of Ukraine. It astonishes me how many patriotic Ukrainians there are who used to be so indifferent to politics; the government, the constitution, parliament, those people who said 'I only want to think about myself, my own problems,' and that’s it. Today, those same people are saying 'I’m ready to join the Ukraine army, I’m ready to fight for independence and freedom for Ukraine, I am ready to take a weapon in my hand, and stand up to the aggressor.'
A friend of mine, a business man, politically he’s indifferent, he said to me, I can’t be like that anymore, not at a time like this. What astonishes me is that this man was on Maidan on that tragic night. He took his own weapon and went to Maidan and shot at the police and the Berkut [special police force] and he fought against the Yanukovych police. In the past, people hadn’t thought about politics, or the political future of our country, but today, people are very nervous, but ready to fight for the territory and sovereignty of the motherland – Ukraine, and they’ll fight against the aggressor and for a democratic future in our country. A lot of people say to me, Yanukovych and the aggressor, Russia, are trying to consolidate Ukraine.
What is the government doing to ensure free and safe elections?
The elections that we’re seeing will be the most democratic elections in the history of Ukraine. There are some candidates from the old state power - no one can understand why they were nominated for the presidential election – the candidates, the one’s representing the old state power, are not being very honest. There may be some provocation for violence from the foreign forces. Many experts say that people outside our country may try to destroy the elections. I really hope this campaign can and will be democratic.
Germany is specifically concerned about the influence the far-right parties will have on the new government. How much influence do they really have?
This problem is present. I just turned on the television and Mr. Yanukovych is advocating against the election. He’s trying to cause trouble and problems for a democratic election in our country. There is a real problem because of people like Mr. Yanukovych and some non-democratic forces inside the country and I think some people will try to destabilize democracy and make an attempt to undermine the elections. The people of Ukraine want a democratic election. After Maidan, people hope for a new future for the country. People want a transition to democracy and orientation towards Europe.
Do you think Ukraine’s bigger problem is military or economic?
I think they are both a problem. We are very thankful for the money from the IMF [International Monetary Fund] and the support from Europe. It is very important for our economy. The government has also made a very critical sequester of the national budget – all the money from the budget will now go to the Ukraine army. Our situation today is a tragic, tragic mistake of previous governments. It is very important for people who want an independent, free and democratic Ukrainian state. It’s very important to have support from Europe and the United States because experience and modern technology and their support will help guarantee peace in our country, in Europe.
Do you think the International Monetary Fund’s bailout might make an economic recovery more difficult later on?
The IMF’s support of our economy is very pragmatic. I am a member of the Ukrainian parliament and am responsible for people with social problems. It’s a critical time for me and what I’m supposed to be doing within parliament. I am sure that with the help of the IMF and Europe, our economy can only get better. The support of the IMF is certainly helping with the critical situation that we have now with the economy. But, after the presidential election we will have to take the steps needed to boost our economy.
How is Ukraine going to pay its gas bill?
The Ukrainian government is coming up with a new strategy to pay for gas – it’s not a simple situation. Diverting gas sources and consultations with the European Union and the United States are very important. I’m sure we can find some context with Russia, too. It’s a difficult question, it’s such a problem, but I’m sure an answer will be found.
How worried are you about Russian troops at the border?
Very. I must say it’s not only me, everyone I know - my friends, my colleagues in parliament – we think about these military forces surrounding our country on the north and south borders. Everyday we wish this tragic situation would never have happened. I want to say that this situation is not only disastrous for the Ukrainian state and its people – this will be tragic for Russia and Europe, too. Everything has to be done to stop a war. War is terrible. War is tragic. War goes against the right for life, the right for peace. I am very nervous about the military forces that are near the border of my country. I hope Russia sees the idea of peace and that will be the winner here.
NATO jets now fly over the Baltic. Would you like to see Ukraine have closer ties to NATO?
There has to be cooperation with these military units, but any military cooperation can only be to defend yourself against the aggressor and with the idea of peace in mind. I know that many countries in Europe, including post Soviet countries – like Poland, the Baltic countries, Moldova, Romania - are thinking about their security and how they could defend their territory if there were a war. It’s a reality today for Europe, especially the countries that border Ukraine. I am optimistic – all my life I have believed there has to be some good and peace in this world. I think the current critical situation in Ukraine, in Europe, and the world has to stop. I hope that leaders of all countries involved here will think about the people – about the Russian people, the Ukrainian people, the Poles, the Romanians – we have to fight together for peace. All Ukrainians want peace and that includes all the people in Russia– they want peace, too. There has to be peace in each of our countries.
Could NATO involvement be a problem for Ukraine’s relations with Russia?
There needs to be consultation between all countries involved. Take, for example, [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and [US President] Barack Obama with Putin, European Union countries and the Ukrainian government – the outcome has to be good, they’re talking. After negotiations the other day between Mr. Lavrov and Mr. Kerry in Paris, I feel very optimistic. There is some hope that there will be new negotiations for peace in our region. Anyone participating in talks – that is certainly a positive start.
Valeriy Sushkevych has been a member of the Ukrainian parliament for 15 years, he is chairman of the Ukrainian Parliamentary Committee on the Affairs of Pensioners, Veterans and the Disabled. He is also president of Ukraine's Paralympic Committee.