Address by the President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko to the Joint Session of the United States Congress
Members of the House, Members of the Senate
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me thank you for your warmth and hospitality.
Addressing both houses of Congress is one of the highest political privileges.
Standing here, I am grateful – and fully aware that this honor goes not to me, but to the people of Ukraine – those brave men and women who are today on the forefront of the global fight for democracy!
Allow me speak to you on their behalf.
I will focus on one thing that is at the core of Ukraine’s existence today: freedom.
There are moments in history when freedom is more than just a political concept.
At those moments, freedom becomes the ultimate choice, which defines who you are – as a person and as a nation.
Ukraine has lived this moment over the last 10 months – and became the scene of the most heroic story of the last decade, a synonym for sacrifice, dedication and the unbreakable will to live free.
The people of Ukraine stood up to the corrupt regime of Yakukovych.
They stood their ground during this dramatic winter – and they are standing their ground right now!
The defenders of freedom were willing to sacrifice their lives for the sake of a better future. What is even more amazing, they won. Armed with only sticks and shields, they attacked the special police and chased them away.
The victory gained on the Independence Square in Kyiv, now known to the whole world as Maidan was a victory against police brutality, harassment by the state-controlled media, violence, and intimidation.
There is nothing more impressive than seeing hundreds of thousands of peaceful people forcing out a violent dictator, and changing the course of history.
Day after day, week after week, month after month – thousands upon thousands streamed into the streets of Kyiv, simply because their dignity didn’t allow them to remain passive and silent, while their liberties were at stake.
The stand-off on the Maidan lasted three months.
It culminated on February 20th and 21st – when over 100 protesters were shot by snipers.
We call them the “Heavenly Hundred”. We revere them as true national heroes.
We applaud their heroism!
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In February, when the world saw that no one could take away Ukraine’s freedom – an external aggressor decided to take away a part of Ukraine’s territory.
The annexation of Crimea became one of the most cynical acts of treachery in modern history.
Ukraine, which gave up the world’s third-largest nuclear potential in exchange for security assurances, was stabbed in the back by one of the countries who gave her those assurances.
Allow me to remind you: 20 years ago, in the Budapest Memorandum, Russia (along with the United States, the United Kingdom, France and China) vowed to provide for the inviolability of Ukraine’s state borders and territorial sovereignty.
In reality, what we got from Russia was annexation and a war that has brought Ukraine to the brink of its survival.
The Soviet Union had collapsed too quickly, creating the illusion that this chapter in history was closed, and that this story had come to the end.
But in the minds of the people, it has not ended. The imperialistic mindset is still there. Nostalgia for the Soviet Union and the dismissal of the settlement that ended the Cold War has been cultivating revisionist instincts.
In 2008, Russian troops occupied Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Now they have invaded Ukraine. The right to protect ethnic Russians, and even Russian speakers, can and already has become a reason to fan the flames of war. Besides Ukraine, the Russian speakers reside in Moldova, Georgia, Kazakhstan, the Baltic States, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria.
Moldova, Georgia, Ukraine – what happens next?
Many things, including the effectiveness of the global non-proliferation system, will be put to a severe test and judged depending on the response of America, and the world, to that question.
Even NATO allies are at risk. As if to underline this point, two days after President Barack Obama’s visit to Estonia, the day the NATO summit ended, an Estonian intelligence officer was abducted and accused of espionage.
The security assurances that were extended to Ukraine then have failed to work, proving that no agreements or treaties can secure world order.
So, what can bring peace and maintain it? - Common values, cooperation, and interdependence; leadership, and responsibility.
Therefore, I urge you not to let Ukraine stand alone in the face of this aggression.
The United States made a commitment that it would stand behind Ukraine’s territorial integrity – and we hope that it will live up to that promise.
Democracies must support each other.
They must show solidarity in the face of aggression and adversity.
Otherwise, they will be eliminated – one by one.
The aggression against Ukraine has become one of the worst setbacks for the cause of democracy in the world in years.
With just one move, the world has been thrown back in time – to a reality of territorial claims, zones of influence, criminal aggression and annexations.
Within two weeks Crimea was invaded and annexed.
Ukraine was not prepared to face the enemy.
The consequences were devastating.
The post-war international system of checks and balances was effectively ruined.
The world was plunged into the worst security crisis since the US-USSR stand-off of 1962.
Today, we are witnessing another attempt at dividing the world, and Ukraine stands at the center of this attempt.
The outcome of today’s war will determine whether we will be forced to accept the reality of a dark, torn, and bitter Europe as part of a new world order.
These Ukrainian army, these young boys (underequipped, and often unappreciated by the world) are the only thing that now stands between the reality of peaceful coexistence and the nightmare of a full relapse into the previous century and a new cold war.
And should that happen, then this would neither be the end of it, nor the worst of it.
The war that these young men are fighting today is not only Ukraine’s war.
It is Europe’s, and it is America’s war, too. It is a war of the free world – and for a free world!
Today, aggression against Ukraine is a threat to global security everywhere. Hybrid proxy wars, terrorism, national radical and extremist movements, the erosion of international agreements, the blurring, and even erasing, of national identities: all of these threats now challenge Europe. If they are not stopped now, they will cross European borders and spread throughout the globe.
To prevent this, thousands of Ukrainian soldiers are in the line of fire right now.
Speaking in the United States Congress, from this high beacon of freedom, I want to thank them for their sacrifice!
I urge the world to recognize and endorse their fight!
They need more political support!
And they need more military equipment – both non-lethal and lethal.
Blankets and night-vision goggles are important.
But one cannot win a war with blankets!
I thank all those in America who realize and appreciate the historic importance of this fight.
Just like Israel, Ukraine has the right to defend her territory – and it will do so, with all the courage of her heart and dedication of her soul!
I urge America to help us and to rise and be equal to its natural and manifest role – I urge America to lead the way!
Ukraine has always had a special bond with the United States.
Today, Ukraine is taking shape as America’s natural and consequential partner in the region.
This partnership is not circumstantial.
It has not come about because we find ourselves “in the same boat”.
It came about because, in the moment of existential crisis, Ukraine’s choice was the same as America’s: freedom, democracy, and the rule of law.
In a time of Europe’s skepticism and Russia’s open, unprovoked hostility, Ukrainian citizens have been ready to give their lives to see Ukraine democratic and free.
Circumstantial “boats” can change. The nature of a people cannot.
It is in the nature of the Ukrainian people to tolerate no dictators and to strive for their freedom – no matter what.
Given today’s situation, Ukraine’s democracy will have to rely on a strong army.
In the upcoming years, building a strong military will be another existential test for Ukrainian democracy.
I see it as my utmost duty to rectify the damage done to the Ukrainian military and to give Ukraine a strong, modern army that we can be proud of.
With this in mind, I strongly encourage the United States to give Ukraine special, non-allied partner status.
I also ask that the United States be forceful and stand by its principles with respect to further sanctions against the aggressor.
Economic sanctions are important for many reasons.
They help to distinguish between good and evil.
They help us defend and stand the moral high ground and not to sink into indifference disguised as pragmatism.
I understand that the wars of the last decade have taken a heavy toll on the economy of the West.
I understand that American citizens and taxpayers want peace, not war.
So do Ukrainian citizens and taxpayers.
However, there are moments in history, whose importance cannot be measured solely in percentages of GDP growth.
Ukraine’s war is the only war of the last decade that is purely about values.
One nation decided to be free and democratic.
Another nation decided to punish her for this.
The world simply cannot allow this kind of behavior!
“Values come first” – this is the truth the West would remind Ukraine of over the last years.
Now it is Ukraine’s turn to remind the West of this truth!
Allow me to also say this: there is no way, at no price, and under no condition, that we will ever put up with Crimea’s occupation.
Ending the occupation and annulling the annexation is not only an integral precondition to a full normalization of relations between Ukraine and Russia.
It is also an integral precondition to Crimea’s prosperity and modernization!
Until this precondition is fulfilled, I urge America and the world to stand united in sending a signal to the aggressors of today and of the future, that the policy and practice of annexation will never be tolerated.
Clearly I am not talking about a military solution of the Crimean problem.
This will be a dilemma for many years; a choice between two ways of life and two political, economic, and social systems.
But I have no doubt that in the long run the system that offers the greater freedom will prevail.
It always does!
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The last half-year has been a time of ultimate challenge for millions of Ukrainians.
It was a time of heroism and sacrifice.
To many – it became the ultimate sacrifice.
Let me share with you two human stories that illustrate my point.
On March 3rd, when the occupation of Crimea just started, there was one man in the Crimean city of Simferopol who did the unthinkable.
When millions felt paralyzed and stunned at what was unfolding before their eyes, Reshat Ametov, a 39-year-old father of three, decided not to be silent.
This brave son of the Crimean Tatar people went on a one-man protest in front of the occupied City Hall.
He did nothing more than hold a sheet of paper that said “NO to Occupation!”
A group of unknown people arrested him and transported him away – in the plain sight of dozens of witnesses and in front of TV cameras.
Two weeks later he was found tortured and executed – mafia-style.
Just the thought of this man’s final tormented minutes sends chills down my spine.
I ask myself – what made this hero do what he did?
And I can find no other answer than – he did it for freedom; so that his children would not face slavery like that of a neo-Stalinist dictatorship.
I am convinced that years from now, when Crimea’s occupation will belong to the past, the Crimean people will think about what he did and salute his braveness – just like I do now!
Ukraine will always stand together with the Crimean Tatar people, whose language, rights, and culture are being trampled upon right now – as they were many years ago under Soviet rule.
I urge America and the world not to be silent about these crimes.
It is Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars who are being oppressed in Crimea today.
And it is time for all people of good will to rephrase John Kennedy’s words from over 50 years ago: “I am a Crimean Tatar!” – and there is nothing that would make me give up my freedom!
Let me also commemorate Volodymyr Rybak, a 42-year-old father of two, and a member of the municipal parliament of East Ukrainian Horlivka.
On April 15, he confronted the separatists and Russian special-ops officers over a separatist flag that they were trying to hoist atop the local administration building.
Just like Reshat Ametov – he was abducted and tortured.
His last hours must have been unthinkable. His body was badly mutilated.
Today I stand here – in awe of this tragedy, and of the courage and sacrifice of this man, and of the courage and sacrifice of millions of Ukrainians.
From the bottom of my heart, I deeply believe that there will be a time (and very soon!), when Horlivka’s central square will be named after Volodymyr and when schoolchildren will bring flowers to his monument.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Make no mistake: Europe’s, and the world’s, choice right now is not a choice between a uni-polar and a multi-polar order.
Neither is it a choice between different kinds of civilizations.
It is a choice between civilization and barbarism.
And while standing at this juncture, before this great trial – the democratic world cannot shrink or hesitate!
We do not want to see all the democratic accomplishments of the last decades to be erased and to have been for nothing.
The free world must stand its ground. And with America’s help – it will!
We live in a world that is mutually reliant and interconnected.
In this world, the aggression on one democratic nation is aggression against all.
If anyone had doubts about this, if anyone was hoping “to sit it out” while Ukrainians and Russians continue killing each other – this ended on July 18th, when a Russian missile launched by a Russian mercenary shot down the civilian Boeing-777.
298 innocent, peaceful people, many of whom were flying on their vacations in the South, met their ultimate demise in the steppes of Ukraine.
Their cold-blooded killing (just like the barbaric treatment of their remains afterwards) showed that whoever floods Europe with uncontrolled weapons – puts millions of lives at risk. For years and decades to come.
This was an indisputable brutal act of terror. Unfortunately, it was this tragedy that gave a wake up call to many in the world about the situation in Ukraine.
Long after wars end – the fear and hate linger on.
How many more deaths will be caused by the handguns handed out, with absolutely no controls or accountability, in those regions?
How many innocent children will step on land mines so massively utilized by separatists?
How many lives will be ruined and souls poisoned by the propaganda machine?
The act of pumping the region full of uncontrolled arms represents a policy of state-funded terrorism – and it needs to stop now!
The cynical downing of the Malaysian Boeing revealed one more important thing: we are now at the forefront of the fight against terrorism.
And we need to join our efforts to effectively respond to this challenge.
With this said, people throughout the world are asking the same questions.
“Are we on the eve of a new cold war?”
“Is the possibility of a new, terrible and unimaginable European war there?”
“Is what until recently seemed unthinkable now becoming a reality?”
Sadly, today, the answer to these questions is – “Yes.”
However, we cannot and must not accept this as an inevitability.
As recently as 2008, the then president of Russia ran his election campaign under the slogan “Freedom is better than non-freedom.”
I am sure that, despite the Crimean annexation and the ongoing aggression, millions of Russians still remember that slogan and take it seriously.
Let’s remind them of it!
Let’s show them that freedom is not a luxury (as some try to convince them), but a necessity – and a precondition for the true success of a nation!
I am convinced that the people of Ukraine and the people of Russia have enough goodwill to give peace one last chance and prevail against the spirit of hate.
That’s why my presidency began with a Peace Plan and a one-sided ceasefire.
That’s why we are holding our fire now.
That’s why two armies stand before each other – without massively shedding each other’s blood.
And if things work out right – they will not have to!
I am in daily contact with the leaders of the world, including the leader of Russia.
The dialogue is not easy. Over these last months, too much goodwill was destroyed.
Too much hate was generated – naturally and artificially.
Too many people have died.
Based on that, I feel there is a growing mutual recognition that enough is enough!
The bloodshed must stop! The pandemic of hate must be localized and contained!
As president, looking in the eyes of the mothers and wives of the dead soldiers and civilians has been my hardest duty.
No one can take it lightly. Today, it’s my burden – and the burden of President Putin.
As he lit a candle in a Moscow church to remember those who perished in this war last week – I did the same in Kyiv.
And from the bottom of heart, I deeply, profoundly wish that church candles would be the only things burned in Ukraine from now on.
Over the last months, Ukrainians have shown that they have the courage to stand up to the most powerful enemy.
We will never obey or bend to the aggressor. We are ready to fight. But we are a people of peace.
I am ready to do my utmost to avoid a further escalation and casualties – even at this point, when the war has already started feeding on itself.
Sooner or later, peace will return to Ukrainian homes.
And despite the insanity of this war, I am convinced that peace can be achieved – sooner rather than later!
I am ready to offer those who live in Donbas more rights than any part of Ukraine has ever had in the history of the nation.
I am ready to discuss anything – accept one thing – Ukraine’s dismemberment.
And I am confident: if this war is about rights, and not about geopolitical ambitions – a solution must, and will be, found!
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In 1991, independence came to Ukraine peacefully.
Yet, the more real this independence became – the higher grew its cost.
Today that cost is as high as it gets.
While fighting this war, we learn to value independence and to recognize true friends.
And at no point to we ever forget WHY we need independence.
We need it to have a country worthy of the dreams of our ancestors.
We need a state that would give its citizens a life of dignity, fairness and equal opportunity.
To reach this goal – we will have to root out the sins that drained Ukraine’s potential for such a long time and made the two decades of independence a time of lost opportunities.
We are painfully aware of these sins, largely inherited from the era of Soviet decay: corruption, bureaucracy and the self-preserving cynicism of political elites.
There is a saying that each people deserve the government it gets.
Ukraine’s two revolutions within a single decade show that Ukraine needs and deserves deep and profound modernization in all spheres – of the kind that brought economic success to our Western neighbors.
Given the current situation in and around Ukraine, the implementation of comprehensive reforms is not a matter of Ukraine succeeding, but of Ukraine surviving.
Deeply aware of that, I gave my voters this pledge – and I will stick to it!
With the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement signed and ratified this treaty simultaneously in the Ukrainian and the European Parliament – we have a clear path of reforms before us.
Never in the history of the European Union was there a document that was paid for so dearly – at such incredible human cost and sacrifice.
And this sacrifice, the memory of the hundreds dead and wounded, will be one more reason and incentive to hold to this unique chance to make Ukraine live up to its potential.
Ukraine needs modern governance and non-corrupt public administration!
Ukraine needs to delegate more powers to local communities!
Ukraine needs to rely more on its strong, vibrant, and dynamic civil society!
Ukraine is building a new model of managing its state and economic affairs, where merit and hard work are duly rewarded!
Ukraine needs know-how, technology, and new start-ups to become better integrated with the global economy.
And for all that – we need America’s help!
In particular, I ask the Congress to create a special fund to support investments of American companies in Ukraine, and to help us with reforming our economy and our justice system!
I assure you that all aid received from the West will be utilized by non-corrupt institutions and that the new generation of officials will make sure the funds are distributed effectively.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We called our revolution the Revolution of Dignity.
Human dignity was the driving force that took people to the streets.
This revolution must result in an education of dignity, an economy of dignity, and a society of dignity.
Human dignity is what makes Ukraine’s heart beat and Ukraine’s mind look toward a new and better version of itself.
Human dignity is the one thing we have to oppose to the barbarism of those attacking us.
It is the one thing that we can set against the sea of lies in which the highly sophisticated and well-funded machine of Russian propaganda is trying to drown the truth about Ukrainian democracy.
In the coming years, too many things will depend on Ukraine’s success.
This success will be determined by Ukraine’s new leadership, by its new political generation and by the newly mobilized society of Ukraine.
Ukraine truly makes a difference.
By supporting Ukraine, you support a new future for Europe and the entire free world.
By supporting Ukraine, you support a nation that has chosen freedom in the most cynical of times.
In Ukraine, you don’t build a democracy – it already exists. You just defend it!
This is what makes Ukraine unique, and its struggle deeply and profoundly different from other conflicts on the world scene.
This is what makes Ukraine the ultimate test of adherence to the ideal of freedom!
“Live free or die!” – was one of the mottos of the American Revolutionary War.
“Live free or die!” – was the spirit on the revolutionary Maidan during the dramatic winter months of 2014.
“Live free or die!” are the words of Ukrainian soldiers standing on the line of freedom in this war.
“Live free!” – must be the answer, with which Ukraine comes out of this war.
“Live free!” – must be the message Ukraine and America send to the world, while standing together in this time of enormous challenge.