How to revive interest in Ukraine

February 28, 2024

On February 24, we commemorated the second anniversary of Russia's unprecedented aggression against Ukraine. For the past two years, the Forum 2000 Foundation and the Forum 2000 community have been engaged in systematic work to share information, provide support to the defenders of the country, and stand with the Ukrainian people and Ukrainian civil society in defense of the values of freedom, democracy, and human dignity that they represent. Martin Ehl, a longtime associate of Forum 2000 and chief analyst at Hospodářské noviny, recently returned from a trip to Ukraine and wrote an article for us on how to revive interest in Ukraine at a time when public support seems to be declining.


How to revive interest in Ukraine

I met Tatiana Khutor and Lesia Ohryzko during a recent visit to Ukraine in a hipster cafe in the center of Kyiv. Both young women are defending Ukraine in the way they do best: working in NGOs.

Khutor leads a legal think tank, which used to monitor the laws adopted by the Ukrainian parliament and now tries to act more like a lobbying organization on behalf of Ukraine, including abroad. "This year will be the year of Russian money," she says, her eyes shining as she describes how – in her opinion – it is possible to obtain 300 billion euros of frozen Russian state funds for Ukraine and its reconstruction. 

This, in turn, is being planned by RISE, an association of nongovernmental organizations headed by Lesia Ohryzko. "It is largely thanks to civil society that Ukraine is still fighting," says Ohryzko, who is endeavouring to ensure that the rule of law operates even in a country that has been attacked by Russia and that there is no letup in the fight against corruption.

The enthusiasm of the two young women in terms of how morale must always be kept high, and how it is necessary to fight because Ukrainians have nowhere to retreat, contrasted with what I saw in people from several NGOs a few days previously in the towns of Pokrov and Pokrovsk near the front. Phrases about victory and struggle were also heard there, but from people who were visibly much more tired and who – unlike those in Kyiv – cannot rely on the protection of an anti-missile shield and the distance that Russian missiles and drones have to fly.

It is perhaps the same in every country, whereby some things look simpler and rosier in the capital city, because they exist mainly on paper, and everything is much more complicated in the "provinces," especially when the country is at war. "Who else but us is supposed to help them," retiree Natalia Damilenko told me in Pokrov. She runs a social assistance center for refugees and locals who are grateful to have a place to rest their heads, meet and talk, and where they are warm in winter and no one – for the most part – is shooting at them.

Support in the West for a struggling Ukraine is logically declining. It's been two years and people have gotten used to the fact that there is fighting somewhere far away and maybe people are dying there. We experienced it, for example, during the 1990s with the wars in the former Yugoslavia.

But perhaps the second anniversary of the Russian invasion is the moment when support for Ukraine should be revived. And don't just look at the tired face of President Volodymyr Zelensky, who has recently seemed to prioritize politics over waging war to defend the nation. Instead, it is better to imagine the faces of people like Tatiana and Lesia or those who, like Natalia, take care of refugees in towns like Pokrov and Pokrovsk.

Apart from the soldiers at the front, it seems to me that it is precisely with these people – who are organizing themselves in nongovernmental organizations of various kinds to help others – where the greatest burden now rests, so that Ukrainian society can cope with the third year of the war, which looks like it will be more difficult than everyone thought it would be up to now.

Martin Ehl, chief analyst at Hospodářské noviny