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Slovakia helps Ukrainians

UKRAINE is no longer literally burning, but the crisis is far from over. While politicians keep their eyes on Slovakia’s eastern border, humanitarian organisations have launched efforts looking to help those on the other side. As The Slovak Spectator went to print on February 27, the new Ukrainian government had just been presented, but the political situation in the country still showed little reason for optimism. Slovak politicians joined the voices of the international community welcoming the end to the violence in Kiev that shocked Europe the week before, but remained alert over the state of affairs across Slovakia’s eastern border. Meanwhile, humanitarian organisations have only started their work in Ukraine, saying that although the political crisis might be fading away, the humanitarian crisis is a reality for many Ukrainians now.

UKRAINE is no longer literally burning, but the crisis is far from over. While politicians keep their eyes on Slovakia’s eastern border, humanitarian organisations have launched efforts looking to help those on the other side. As The Slovak Spectator went to print on February 27, the new Ukrainian government had just been presented, but the political situation in the country still showed little reason for optimism. Slovak politicians joined the voices of the international community welcoming the end to the violence in Kiev that shocked Europe the week before, but remained alert over the state of affairs across Slovakia’s eastern border. Meanwhile, humanitarian organisations have only started their work in Ukraine, saying that although the political crisis might be fading away, the humanitarian crisis is a reality for many Ukrainians now.

V4 offers expertise

The four Visegrad Group countries (Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland), three of which border Ukraine, issued a joint statement on February 24 when their foreign ministers met in Budapest, praising the end of the violence as well as former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s release from jail. The V4 considers the stabilisation of the country’s economic situation to be key in the consolidation process.

The ministers jointly declared their support for Ukraine moving closer to the EU and confirmed that they are ready to visit Ukraine and share the experiences of their countries in the democratisation process, as well as provide and coordinate humanitarian aid.

Slovakia’s Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajčák sees the current situation in Ukraine as much the same as that of the V4 countries in the 1990s.

“If they’re serious about their statements, then they’re about to undergo economic transformation, combat corruption and deal with a large number of accumulated problems, and we have practical experience with all of this,” said Lajčák, as quoted by the TASR newswire.

On February 21 Slovakia’s Security Council convened a special meeting. Although Ukraine is Slovakia’s immediate neighbour, “we have never managed to start normal political relations” as with our other neighbours, Prime Minister Robert Fico told the press conference after the meeting.

“I cannot say why it is like that, it’s very difficult for us to make our way in the backstage of the events on the Ukrainian scene, because we don’t have as much information as we have about the Czech scene or other neighbouring countries,” Fico said. “There are specifics in [Ukraine’s] parliamentary life that we don’t know in Europe. There, the parliament is ruled by those who rule over the electricity box. There are many radical forces that we know nothing about, we don’t know who finances them, who is behind them and why the tension has escalated when it was evident when ministers of three foreign countries came to negotiate there.”

Lajčák later explained on the TA3 news channel that Fico meant to say the political system in Ukraine differs from that in the EU countries.

“It is marked by lower transparency; in other words - internal political developments aren’t as clear as with our other neighbours,” Lajčák said.

Fico said that there has been no increased movement around the border with Ukraine, nor did the number of visa applicants from Ukraine rise.

At the same time Fico reiterated that Slovakia is ready to accept migrants from Ukraine, protect them and provide them with basic necessities. Slovakia is able to provide shelter to about 1,000 people. If necessary, this might be increased up to 10,000. The Slovak authorities are also prepared for a scenario where the tension might influence the transit of gas and oil to Slovakia, he said.

Humanitarian efforts

Meanwhile, humanitarian organisations active in Slovakia have begun work to help those who were harmed by the recent violence.

The Slovak Catholic Charity (SKCH) and the People in Peril association are raising funds and have sent their humanitarian workers to Kiev.

“Many people are still missing, Ukraine still needs our help,” SKCH General Secretary Radovan Gumulák said.

The SKCH earlier joined its sister organisations grouped within Caritas Europa and sent €3,000 to Ukraine, mainly for health-care supplies and equipment for mobile hospitals.

The SKCH has also announced a public collection for people in Ukraine and reported that Slovaks have been responsive to it.

“For example, today one lady brought us €400 and said she wants to support our study fund in Ukraine,” SKCH spokesman Lukáš Melicherčík told The Slovak Spectator.

Melicherčík noted that the political and economic crisis continues in Ukraine even though the worst of the violence and bloodshed is over but the SKCH continues to monitor the situation, trying to find ways to help people in need or those who were injured.

“Importantly, the economic crisis in Ukraine goes hand in hand with the social crisis, which has a very negative impact on many people,” Melicherčík explained, adding that the SKCH contributes through various projects, among them the study fund which is a part of its Adoption from Afar and which supports the education of children in the orphanage of the Ukrainian village of Bortnyky.

The People in Peril civic association has also launched a public fund-raising called SOS Ukraine and a week later spoke of a positive reaction among the Slovak public, after €3,500 was collected, which was added to the €500 that the association assigned for Ukraine from its Donors Club.

“Ukraine is our neighbouring country and we seem to feel a belonging,” spokeswoman Paula Tomanovičová told The Slovak Spectator, adding that several organisations have applied which want to support people in Ukraine - for instance the Artforum chain of bookshops is sending half of the price of each book sold that was written by a Ukrainian author to SOS Ukraine, while the Hilaris Chamber Orchestra is organising a concert on March 9 to support the fund-raising.

“The situation is calmer for now, but many people are still injured, there are families of the victims who were left behind and need help,” Tomanovičová said.

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