Wilkommen in Berlin!

Wilkommen in Berlin!

  • Michael Cholod
  • Jun 25th, 2024

A few weeks ago, I was very fortunate to be invited by the Government of Germany to attend the 2024 Ukraine Recovery Conference. I was honoured to represent The Peace Coalition in my favourite German city, Berlin.

During the 2014 Revolution of Dignity, huge protests were held in Kyiv’s Maidan Square demanding that Ukraine align itself with the EU and Western values, not Russia and kleptocracy. The government began undertaking reforms to reinforce security and democratic accountability. Then in 2017, Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman held the firstUkraine Reform Conference as a tool for active engagement and collaboration with international organizations and democracies to support and implement reforms in Ukraine.

Flash forward to February 2022, Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began, and the 5thannual Ukraine Reform Conference was re-branded as the Ukraine Recovery Conference. The agenda shifted from reforming Ukraine to rebuilding Ukraine.

From Reform to Recovery 

Since 2022, Switzerland, the U.K. and now Germany have played host to thousands of businesses, donors, international development agencies and local communities from Ukraine and around the world. The goal is to support Ukraine in its existential struggle against Russian aggression and start planning for its post-war recovery.

After an arduous 36-hour train-bus-train ride from Kyiv, I arrived in Berlin on June 9th with two days to get ready for the conference. Since there would be world leaders present including Olaf Scholz, Ursula von der Leyen, and the man himself, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, I still had no idea of its actual location as security was that tight.

I eventually received and email on June 10th directing me to arrive at the Berlin Messe, or fairgrounds, to register and get my badge. The conference would start at 10 am on the 11th, with speeches from the world leaders so anyone not yet registered and through security before 7 am would only be admitted after 11:00 - once the heads of state have departed. So, I set my alarm to a dark & early 4 am.

Lawyers, Guns and Money

This year’s event was huge with over 3400 attendees, and it kicked off with a welcome speech by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz promising unwavering support for Ukraine including insurance, weapons and money.

Next was Zelenskyy who praised his colleagues’ constant financial and military support. However, even more aid was necessary to protect Ukrainian cities, their people and electrical grids. He did not ask for European boots on the ground, as Ukraine has a well-trained and motivated army. All they need are the tools necessary to defeat Russia’s modern-day Hitler.

Closing the speeches was EU President, Ursula von der Leyen who also pledged unwavering support including making Russia pay for all the destruction through the interest earned on their immobilised assets. This could generate approximately $5 billion per year.

Promises, promises

After the plenary speeches, the conference broke into four topic tracks: business, human, local government and EU integration. Attendees could choose then attend panel discussions by high-level politicians, humanitarians and bureaucrats where funds for de-mining, war insurance, small business support, local government capacity building and EU integration were promised.

It was an incredible honour to attend such an important event and witness so many people and governments make so many promises to support Ukraine for as long as required. Unfortunately, keeping those promises can be challenging. As one government development representative told me, “we have lots of money promised for Ukraine, but we are having a really hard time spending it.”

Ukraine is fighting an existential battle for democracy on behalf of all of us who value freedom and human rights and they are hoping that when our leaders make promises, they are kept. Finally, wartime government procurement needs to be flexible and adapt to the current reality by distributing crucial funds to protect the defenders of our freedom. 

Giving Ukrainians the help they need in exchange for the safety and security for all of Europe, seems like a fair trade to me.

Slava Ukraini!  Heroaim Slava!