Resistance to the Russian invasion is also being organised from Brussels through pressure on political and international institutions.
Russia struck fear into the world by launching an invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022. This war had consequences for the world economy and disrupted the political agenda of Europe. The European Union Member States quickly voted to impose sanctions on the Russian aggressor. In Belgium, a powerful mobilisation to support victims was rolled out, in particular, to receive Ukrainian refugees and make donations.
But at the beginning of 2023, support for Ukraine seems to have ‘gone out of fashion’, shares Marta Barandiy, the founder of Promote Ukraine Promote Ukraine Public Group, who participates with this pressure group in the Ukrainian resistance from Brussels. Their headquarters are located in the heart of the European quarter, two steps from the EU’s institutions. Located in a soon-to-be-demolished building, these few faded rooms retain the atmosphere of war. The office has just three tables, a blue and yellow flag on the wall, several political posters, anti-Putin goodies.
It is within this frugal framework that the mechanism for protecting Ukrainian interests is activated. Promote Ukraine works with three employees and a hundred volunteers, mostly Ukrainian refugees, as well as several Europeans (Belgians, Greeks, Spanish, Germans). Marta Barandiy, a graduate with a degree in international law and editor-in-chief of the Brussels Ukraїna Review, knows those in power and is well received in the European Parliament. President Roberta Metsola showed her support as did Brussels Mayor Philippe Klose and Bastogne Mayor, MEP Benoît Lutgen.
“Today we are looking for new premises,” explains the Ukrainian, “It was given to us for free, but we have to leave at the end of January. We cannot afford to rent the premises. Everything we receive goes to Ukraine.”
Since February 2022, Promote Ukraine has received the equivalent of EUR 340,000 from such structures as the King Baudouin Foundation, Partenamut, and others. Donations were sent to the front in the form of winter equipment and medical protection with the sole purpose of protecting soldiers and the lives of civilians.
“In the spring of 2022, there was a lot of interest in our activity. But today we feel forgotten,” says Marta Barandiy in despair, “We don’t get enough support from the European Union or the Belgian government. We met with Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and gave him advice on how to help Ukraine, but he did nothing. Brussels city authorities said they were going to support us, but we don’t know when that will be. If we don’t get help quickly, we will have to stop our outreach work.”
Diamonds finance Russian missiles
“Belgium sends too much money to the Kremlin,” denounces Marta Barandiy, who mentions liquefied gas still being bought from the Russians, uranium for nuclear power, software for the MIR system produced by a company headquartered at Brussels, and, above all, diamonds from Antwerp. “We suggest that Belgium should purchase weapons for Ukraine to the tune corresponding to the increase in its trade with Russia in 2022 compared to 2021.” She cites as an example: “A Kh-22 missile which destroyed a 70-apartment building in Dnipro in January, cost half a million dollars. It can be assumed that the diamond trade between Belgium and Russia already financed 3,362 such missiles last year.”
Her colleague Vasyl Kushmuns suggests raising the Belgian economy by financing the resistance forces. “Belgium could buy Ukrainian steel at low prices to process it into machine guns which would then be sent back to the front. FN Herstal produces weapons that are among the best in the world. Why not use this approach?
At Promote Ukraine, we describe the attitude of European countries towards Russia as expectant, even romantic. “Russia is realistic. Belgium naively believes that the war is limited to Ukraine. If we continue like this, without doing anything, Ukraine will lose the war in 2023. Will they wait until Kyiv disappears to act? My heart bleeds at the thought.”