7 March 2023


Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (15:42): Ira Lyubarskaya is a young woman, a young university student with dreams and hopes. But Ira is from Mariupol. Ira is one of so many human faces with human stories that have been told as part of the bloody war that has struck Ukraine. Ira has buried her friend’s parents, helped her disabled father to flee, seen her mother trapped in Russian territory and lived on stinking mattresses in the basement of her former building. In Ira’s words:

We lived in Building No. 7; there is no building left … I went to the Mariupol State University; there is no university left. There is no city left.

…   …   …

Putin ‘liberated’ us from our home, from our studies, our work, our future.

We, in Australia, thousands of kilometres away, care about the war in Ukraine because there are important principles at stake. We condemn the barbaric, illegal and immoral actions of Vladimir Putin and the Russian government he leads. To do otherwise would be to imperil us all by tacitly condoning the actions of violent autocrats. But, amidst our important principles and our strong condemnation, we should remember Ira and the countless other stories of unnecessary loss and suffering.

UNICEF analysis suggests that 80 per cent of Ukrainian children are now living in poverty. These children are not just facing the obvious physical risks of war from shelling, firing and combat. Such children are not just facing the mental health scars that will stay with them throughout their lives. Their lives and long-term health are imperilled in other ways. The destruction by Russia of more than 800 Ukrainian health facilities means children are missing out on vital vaccines that would otherwise shield them from future disease. Then there are the horrific instances of war crimes committed by Russia. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe has identified mass graves, massacres and torture chambers. In one of its reports, the OSCE spoke of the mutilated bodies of murdered men, women and children discovered in a basement. Some had their ears cut off, while others had their teeth pulled out.

Amid such horrors and crimes, it would be easy to be despondent. But, if there is one thing Ukraine has shown itself to be the antithesis of, it is despondency. Ukraine has come to be defined by defiance, stoicism, bravery, resolve and triumph. Putin expected a quick victory, but Vladimir Putin was as wrong in his military strategy as he is in his moral compass. This war was unprovoked, unjust and unacceptable.

Thirty-one years ago, after the fall of the Iron Curtain, proud Ukrainians rose up and seized their national identity to once again recreate their nation. Using their rights under international law, Ukrainians embraced their sovereignty, celebrated their nationality and built their nation. Although imperfect, like all of us, Ukraine has much to be proud of and much to defend. Ukraine and Ukrainians can be especially proud of their defence of their nation. They and much of the world have been inspired by the acts of courage and bravery.

Inspirations have come in many forms, most visibly in the leadership of President Zelenskyy. As President Zelenskyy said, Ukrainians made a choice on 24 February last year—not of a white flag but of a blue and yellow flag. He has spoken in defence not only of territory or people but of principles—the right to self-determination, to security and to live without being threatened. These principles form the basis of our call to arms, Australia’s call to arms, even from the other side of the world. No small or mid-sized nation should tolerate seeing another invaded by or made subservient to a bigger or more powerful regional neighbour.

In helping to defend Ukraine, we defend the principles, the norms and the international laws that help to defend Australia. The previous coalition government proudly stepped forward with $225 million of defence military equipment, $65 million in humanitarian assistance, thermal coal to support energy supplies and humanitarian visas for Ukrainians forced to flee. We applied financial sanctions against hundreds of Russian individuals and entities as part of coordinated action with like-minded partners.

The Labor government has built upon this foundation with more support and more sanctions, and our bipartisan support for these actions is emphatic. We will continue to encourage and welcome further actions and encourage further humanitarian assistance for people like Ira and others, as well as encouraging the reopening of Australia’s embassy in Kiev.

If democracies have suffered from self-doubt in recent times, the Ukrainian spirit reminds us to have confidence in ourselves, confidence in the enduring nature of our values, confidence to speak truthfully about threats to freedom and confidence to show resolve in confronting evil wherever it lurks. As we acknowledge this first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine we say confidently: Slava Ukraini. Glory to Ukraine.