Ukrainian parliamentarian and president of the country's national Paralympic Committee, Valeriy Sushkevych , talks to DW about his fears for the country once the Sochi Games are over.
DW: Due to the current situation in Crimea, the Ukrainian team gave great consideration to participating in the Sochi Games. You said the team decided to stay to send Russian President Vladimir Putin and the world a message that your country wants peace. Do you think you've got that message across?
Valeriy Sushkevych: We want peace for Ukraine, peace for Europe and peace for the world because the situation in Crimea is very dangerous. Our goal, the goal of the national team, is to show everyone, all nations - including Russia - that peace is possible. I spoke with the president of Russia and I said to him, Mr. President, for your honor and your ambitions, it is very important that you stop the aggression during the Paralympic Games.
At the opening ceremony, as a political statement, only Ukraine's flag bearer entered the stadium. What are the Ukrainian teams plans for the closing ceremony on Sunday?
At the moment we don't have a plan. We need to talk about it as a whole team, but, at the moment, our sportspeople are concentrating on their achievements and supporting peace in our country. At this time, thinking about the closing ceremony is just too hard. It will be decided on later.
Coincidentally, also on Sunday, a referendum will take place asking the people of Crimea whether they want to join Russia or restore the Crimean constitution while remaining part of Ukraine. How do you see things playing out on Sunday and into the future?
For me it's tragic that the two events coincide. It's an illegal referendum because, according to the constitution of Ukraine, such a referendum is not possible, it is illegal. But today, the person who announced he was the leader of Crimea is going against the constitution of Ukraine. I don't believe [the referendum] is going to be honest, because, if many, many thousands of Russian soldiers stay on the Crimean peninsula it won't be fair, people won't be able to give their opinion. They say it will be democratic, but that's not democracy, it's not possible to have a real decision when it's illegal on so many levels: illegal under the Ukrainian constitution and illegal because there are military soldiers from another country are there.
It will be interesting to see who is going to take responsibility for this illegal, tragic event. It is going to get worse for Ukraine, Crimea and Europe, because it's not acceptable that another country decides what goes on inside a country. It is it very difficult for me to watch television in Russia, look at "Russia Today" for example, there is no news about the Russian situation - they only talk about how they must push Ukraine and defend Ukraine. But, defend Ukraine from whom? It's not necessary to defend me. My son lives in Crimea and he feels good, there is no problem - he speaks Russian. In my family, a lot of the time we speak in Russian. It's up to me to decide which language I use when I communicate with people, in school, anywhere. For me, it's about defending my right to use the language.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said if the referendum goes ahead with no sign of Russia being prepared to come to the negotiating table with Ukraine on the crisis, that "there will be a very serious series of steps on Monday in Europe and [the United States]." Should the US be getting involved in Ukrainian affairs?
I don't think the US is interfering in our problem. In the world community today, different countries must be understanding and support one country against the aggression of another country. The US and European countries looked at one country within the European community that facing aggression from another country and there must be a reaction.
The international reaction of other countries have all been understanding. I think the US reaction is justified and I hope that not only the US but other countries' leaders will discuss with Russia that there needs to be peace on Ukrainian land. I hope together we can reach a decision that is in the best interests of the people of Ukraine. We need sovereignty, because that's the most important thing for countries. Many, many Russians live in the US, Spain and even Italy. If Russia decided the Russian community in those countries wasn't being treated fairly it could decide there needed to be intervention. That cannot be allowed.
What assistance are you hoping for – at the moment it has just been words, what are you hoping those countries will do?
I hope for a decision. First of all there needs to be negotiations, up until now Russia has said no, no negotiations. If Russia wanted to come to a fair agreement, there must be negotiations. If you don't want there to be a fair and reasonable agreement, then you say no to negotiations. Please, we need negotiations. In light of the mission of the United Nations and the mission of the European community there is an agreement for communication and negotiation. The point is, we need negotiations. I had hoped that before a referendum took place talks would have taken place.
What do you think of the sanctions the US and Europe want to impose on Russia?
I hope the leaders of Russia don't wait for that [the sanctions to be imposed] and participate in negotiations and find new instruments for finding a peaceful decision. Sanctions are very effective instruments because our world is very small. If the European community decided there was a need for such instruments against a country that is being destructive, then it will be very effective. I hope it will not mean the situation escalates, I hope it opens up a new stage of communication between Russia, Ukraine and the international community to stop the military escalation in the Crimea.
Since the end of the Olympic Winter Games, tensions in the Crimea region have escalated dramatically, what has it been like in Sochi for the Ukraine team?
I've been a little bit down since getting here, I told Mr. Putin that many political experts say the Olympic Games are a good situation for Ukraine. Because during the Olympic Games the leaders of Russia did not act aggressively toward Ukraine. That was great, I was very hopeful, that was a step in the right direction for peace. I had hoped the Paralympics would have been the same - peace during the Olympic and Paralympics Games. I can't understand how that for the Olympic Games it's possible to stop war, but during the Paralympics it doesn't matter. It's a rather cynical situation. The situation at the moment in Ukraine is very bad, there has been an increase in military forces - not just in Crimea, but other parts of Ukraine, too. And it's getting worse. What they are doing to my country is dangerous for peace, for Ukraine and for Europe, too. I am afraid what will happen when the Paralympic Games end. Think about the soldiers who may be participating in the war, the ones who may lose a leg, arms, an eye or those who get injured. I know what that's like because I sit in a wheelchair; I want to stop this situation.
How was your team accepted here in Russia?
Many of the Russians we have met have been very friendly toward us. They say, "Wee don't want this aggression, this intervention, what our country is doing is illegal. It's not what I want," [they say] they have brothers, sisters, mother, father, family and friends in Ukraine and that they do not want this situation. Many people in Ukraine say they like Russia. During the competition, many Russians supported our team, they have been very friendly toward us. But, they too are very afraid of war. Many Russians tell me they dont watch television because of the propaganda. The other day, the Russians asked if some of our team wanted to do something with them, it's like they're hungry for real information about Ukraine because they know the information of television isn't true. They just want to get the information straight from the Ukrainians.
I have many friends in the Russian team. But when they ask "how are you," I answer "not so good." That's my answer every time. They say they support us, but they cannot look me in the eye.
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 attending the Winter Paralympic Games in Sochi, Russia, in his role as president of Ukraine's Paralympic Committee.