“They will never break our spirit”
Text: Martina Hošková and M.Zisso; Photo: Archive
A second-generation career diplomat with a degree in International Law, JUDr. Vitalii Usatyi became the head of the Ukrainian Embassy in the Czech Republic in August 2022. He spoke to us about how the Russian enemy sought to destroy them, but Ukraine had only become more united. “Every meter of our liberated land is taken with the blood of our soldiers. This is the real Ukraine. Ukraine has changed. We will never be the same, and we will never let anyone force us to do something against our will,” he says and immediately adds, “Me personally, and the whole of the Ukraine, will always remember and appreciate everything that the friendly Czech people have done in the name of our common Victory over the Russian enemy.”
You have taken on the duties of the head of the Ukrainian Embassy in the Czech Republic since August 2022. Can you briefly describe your professional background leading up to your current role?
I am a second-generation career diplomat. After obtaining my degree in International Law at the Institute of International Relations of Taras Shevchenko National University in Kyiv, I started working in the Legal Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine. Over time, I worked my way up from a specialist of the Legal Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine to the Director General of Legal Affairs Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine. I am still thankful to fate, and to my former supervisors – who saw my potential and desire to work in diplomacy and had taught me a lot.
I served as Vice-Consul at the Consulate General of Ukraine in Prešov, Slovak Republic, and as Deputy Ambassador at the Ukrainian Embassy to the Slovak Republic. Since August 2022, I have taken on the duties of Chargé d’Affaires of Ukraine in the Czech Republic.
Do you recall your first impression of Czechia upon your arrival?
Actually, I have been working in the Czech Republic since April 2022. Before that, I worked in Slovakia for a long time, and visited the Czech Republic many times, so the country was not new to me.
However, my first impressions while visiting the Czech Republic during the Russian full-scale invasion were of tremendous support, assistance, and solidarity with Ukraine and our people. This support was evident at every step, from the highest state authorities to ordinary Czech citizens who tried to help us in every way possible, and constantly emphasizing that we were fighting for them too. The Czech people showed themselves to be true brothers and sisters with a good historical memory, drawing lessons from the Russian occupation in 1968.
In my free time, which is very limited, I try to learn more about the Czech Republic, its rich culture, language, traditions, nature, and everything that this wonderful fraternal country has to offer.
Sadly enough, talking about Ukraine these days means talking about war. How has the war impacted your country and its people?
Ukraine has always been a powerful European country, and has now become resilient. It has become a symbol of courage for the entire civilized world. Before the full- scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, we have unfortunately been often compared to each other, but now the world knows Ukraine.
The blue-yellow flags fly high as a sign of support for life, and for the condemnation of the death always brought by Russia. The Russian enemy sought to ruin us, but Ukraine has only become more united. We have never been so unified as during the last year and a half. They daily destroy our infrastructure, civil houses, kindergartens, schools, and monuments, but they will never break our spirit. The phrase “Better to be with no light and warmth than with Russia” has become our motto during the attacks on our energy system. Ukraine has become the centre of our continent, where values are defended, freedom is protected, and Europe’s future is being written.
When the Russian troops broke into Ukraine, many people were afraid that we could not resist for a long time. But it never happened. Our people’s courage stunned the world. Our people stop the tanks with their bare hands, our farmers are harvesting under shelling, and our people save each other by risking their own lives. Every meter of our liberated land is taken with the blood of our soldiers. This is the real Ukraine. The life of every person is important to us. We are a nation that believes in victory, and which surely goes for it. Ukraine has changed. We will never be the same, and we will never let anyone force us to do something against our will.
As you said, Europe’s future is being written now in Ukraine, which is fighting for its life. Do you feel a lot of support from the Czech people?
We have felt tremendous support from the Czech people from the very beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion. Czech people have provided a massive amount of humanitarian aid for Ukrainians who were forced to leave their homes and seek safety from the Russian bombings. Czech families have opened their homes to host our women and children. Many Ukrainian adaptation centres, centres for assistance to Ukrainians, language courses, and psychological support centres were established. Well-known Czech initiatives have fundraised to support the Ukrainian army, and there has been support from Czech citizens. After a recent visit to Prague, the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and the Chairman of Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, Ruslan Stefanchuk, were very pleasantly impressed by the great number of Ukrainian flags in the city.
A bright example of Czech support is an event that took place last year. Czech society has a good historical memory. 55 years ago, on the night of August 20th-21st, the territory of Czechoslovakia was occupied by the troops of the Warsaw Pact, ending the hopes of Czech and Slovak people for a free democratic life. Czechs and Slovaks, who themselves experienced the occupation in 1968, understand today’s tragedy of the Ukrainian people, who are resisting the Russian aggression, very well. As a part of the commemoration of this anniversary in Czechia in August 2022, a spontaneous ‘flashmob’ was held called “Let’s transfer 1968 Crowns to the Ukrainian military”. 14,000 people took part in this action, and 24.2 million CZK were transferred to the charity account of the Embassy. We are also very grateful to Czech citizens and legal entities for their donations on the eve of August 21st this year.
Me personally, and the whole of the Ukraine, will always remember and appreciate everything that friendly Czech people have done in the name of our common victory over the Russian enemy.
The Ukrainian community in Czechia has grown a lot since the invasion began. Do you work together?
Yes, I am in constant contact with the representatives of the Ukrainian community in the Czech Republic. The Ukrainian community has established a wide network of organizations, particularly in Prague, Brno, Hradec Králové, Chomutov, Liberec, and Karlovy Vary. We hold regular organizational meetings with the heads of Ukrainian organizations to coordinate our joint plans, events, and efforts. Since the full-scale Russian invasion, the new Ukrainian organizations have appeared in the Czech Republic, and they have been actively engaged and have collaborated with the Czech Republic, for which we are very grateful to the Czech people.
Your country wants to join the EU and NATO. What are the benefits of joining both? Do you feel supported in that?
Ukrainians are currently making a great contribution to the safety of the European continent. Thanks to the heroism of Ukrainian defenders, as well as international support, Ukraine has not only withstood the blow but also conducts successful operations to liberate the occupied territories.
As we can see, only uncertainty provokes Russia. In 2014, when Russia occupied Crimea and started a war in Donbas, Ukraine was officially a non-aligned country, which did not help to keep Russia from showing aggression. Progress towards Ukraine’s accession to NATO, as well as European integration, will force Russia to stop the aggression. The accession of our country to NATO will guarantee the strategic safety of the whole Alliance, as well as guaranteeing peace in Europe.
The support is well felt. The Czech Republic fully supports Ukraine’s acquisition of full membership in the European Union and NATO, including the accelerated procedure.
Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion of the Russian Federation into Ukraine, the Czech Republic has taken a long number of steps to support your country and its people. Can you tell us how you perceive the current status of Czech- Ukrainian relations?
The Czech Republic is our reliable friend and partner. Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion of the Russian Federation into Ukraine, the Czech Republic has become one of Ukraine’s closest partners in Europe, which provides comprehensive and diverse political, economic, military-technical, and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine in its fight against Russian aggression, taking leading positions in the EU in certain areas.
Support for Ukraine, its reforms, and European choice is declared in the program documents of the Czech government. On 1st March 2023, the Government of the Czech Republic approved the changes to the program of its activities, which were due to the full- scale Russian aggression against Ukraine and the economic consequences caused by it. Special attention in the renewed program is given to Ukraine, where it is specifically mentioned that the Czech Republic will make the necessary efforts to create a Special Tribunal to punish the crime of Russian aggression. It also specifically mentioned that it will take an active part in the post-war reconstruction of our state, which should not only be a restoration but also a general modernization, with the aim of integrating Ukraine into the European Union and NATO. The Czech Republic fully supported and co-authored of the resolutions regarding Ukraine within the framework of the UN General Assembly. The Czech Republic consistently supports the continuation and strengthening of personal and sectorial sanctions against the Russian Federation at the EU level.
Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion of the Russian Federation into Ukraine, the Parliament of the Czech Republic has adopted a number of important resolutions in the interests of our country. The Czech Republic provided shelter to more than 520,000 temporarily displaced persons from Ukraine. We are grateful to the Czech government for its quick reaction, and for its condemnation of the actions of the Russian Federation regarding the withdrawal from the “grain agreement”.
The export of grain from Ukraine, mainly to Africa and the Middle East, is crucial, and there has been a lot of effort invested in securing further export. How has the Czech Republic been involved?
The support of the Czech Republic for further implementing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s initiative “Grain from Ukraine”, regarding the export of grain to the countries of Africa and the Middle East, is critical.
The Czech side took part in the International Founding Summit “International Summit on Food Security” (November 26th, 2022, Kyiv), and joined the Joint Statement based on the results of this event. The financial contribution of the Czech Republic amounted to 2 million CZK (85,000 US Dollars). In December 2022, the President of Ukraine sent a letter of thanks to the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, Mr Fiala, for the Czech Republic’s participation in the International Summit on Food Security, and for its support for the “Grain from Ukraine” initiative.
On 21st April 2023 and 9th May 2023, telephone conversations between the Minister of Agrarian Policy and Food of Ukraine and the Minister of Agriculture of the Czech Republic took place, during which the Czech side confirmed its readiness to facilitate the further export of Ukrainian grain.
We are grateful to the Czech government for its quick reaction and condemnation of the actions of the Russian Federation regarding the withdrawal from the “grain agreement”. The Russian Federation’s violation of international obligations and regular cynical attacks on Ukrainian port infrastructure, means of navigation support, and grain terminals confirm that the Russian Federation is a terrorist state, whose actions lead to an increase in world prices and food shortages, as well as the suffering of millions of people – particularly in Africa and the Middle East.
Currently, there is an obvious need to consolidate the further steps of the EU states and the international community in general regarding the further implementation of the “Grain from Ukraine” program, and to ensure the smooth creation and functioning of a humanitarian maritime corridor in the Black Sea.
Ukraine immediately initiated consultations with its international partners regarding an appropriate response to the unilateral and aggressive actions of the Russian Federation.
Ukraine is extremely grateful to the President of the Czech Republic Peter Pavel, to the Government of the Czech Republic, the Senate of the Parliament of the Czech Republic, the Chamber of Deputies of the Parliament of the Czech Republic, and all the citizens of this powerful country for all you have done, and for the fact that you stand for Ukraine and on the side of truth.
This interview is done on the occasion of the Independence Day of Ukraine, which you celebrate on 24th August in commemoration of gaining independence in 1991, when the Soviet Union dissolved. Please, feel free to express your wishes on this special occasion.
Ukrainians now wish each other the most cherished victory over the Russian occupiers. These wishes are heard every day, every minute. In addition, I would like to wish for strength and endurance, and for us to always remember that we stand on the side of truth and justice. We know what we are fighting for, and we have a lot to fight for.
To the dear Czech Republic, I would like to wish patience and faith in our common victory, which will surely come, and that you will never feel what we have felt. We are going through this struggle together, and together we are holding the defence of the entire European continent.
“Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion of the Russian Federation into Ukraine, the Parliament of the Czech Republic has adopted a number of important resolutions in the interest of our country,” JUDr. Vitalii Usatyi, Chargé d‘affaires a.i. of Ukraine, provides us with this list.
- 24.01.22 The Chamber of Deputies (low chamber) of the Parliament of the Czech Republic adopted a resolution condemning Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine.
- 25.02.2022 The Senate also adopted a corresponding resolution “Regarding the Russian invasion into Ukraine”.
- 05.04.2022 The Chamber of Deputies unanimously adopted the resolution “Regarding the condemnation of war crimes committed by the Russian army on the territory of Ukraine”.
- 04.07.2022 The Senate adopted a similar resolution.
- 06.04.2022 The Chamber of Deputies unanimously adopted a resolution recognizing the Holodomor in Ukraine in 1932-33 as genocide of the Ukrainian people.
- 11.05.2022 The Senate adopted a resolution “Regarding support to Ukraine”.
- 15.06.2022 The Senate and the Chamber of Deputies adopted two resolutions “Regarding the speech of the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy to members of the Senate” and “Supporting the territorial integrity of Ukraine and condemning the military aggression of the Russian Federation”.
- 02.10.2022 The President of the Czech Republic Miloš Zeman signed the joint statement of the Presidents of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Poland, Montenegro, Romania, North Macedonia, and Slovakia regarding Russia’s attempts to annex Ukrainian territories.
- 15.11.2022 The Chamber of Deputies adopted a resolution “Regarding the escalation of Russian aggression against Ukraine, crimes against Ukrainian civil population, and support for the creation of a special international criminal tribunal to investigate war crimes committed by the armed forces and power structures of the Russian Federation”, which recognized the Russian regime as a terrorist.
- 14.12.2022 The Senate adopted a resolution “Regarding the genocide of the Ukrainian people during the Holodomor, organized by the Stalin regime of the Soviet Union in 1932-33”.
- 15.02.2023 The Senate adopted the resolution “Regarding the Russian aggression against Ukraine”, in which the Russian aggression against Ukraine was again condemned and the necessity of the establishment of an international tribunal for investigation of the crimes of aggression committed by senior officials of the Russian Federation against Ukraine was declared.
- 31.05.2023 The Senate adopted the resolution “Regarding preparations for the NATO Summit in Vilnius in July 2023”, in which it called for deepening Ukraine’s integration into NATO structures even before the official start of the process of our country’s accession to the North Atlantic Alliance, support for Ukraine’s acquisition of NATO membership as soon as possible, as well as the continuation of supply of weapons and military equipment to Ukraine in coordination with allies among NATO member states.
All of these demonstrate the unwavering support of the Czech Republic for Ukraine.