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I am sitting in my car in Kyiv, watching people trying to carry on with their lives. I can see perhaps a dozen of them strolling along the streets of a European capital in the spring sunshine.

Yet there is nothing normal about these scenes. Many people are wearing military uniforms, the streets are filled with roadblocks and there are checkpoints everywhere. For Kyiv is being bombed, my fellow citizens are dying – and I am armed with a gun.

I am a lawyer and former prime minister who served under President Volodymyr Zelensky, but there is nothing unusual in bearing arms these days. It is my duty – like all Ukrainian men – to protect my country as a member of the territorial defence forces, as Ukraine comes under Russian attack.

Prepared to fight: Former Ukrainian prime minister Oleksiy Honcharuk (right) has joined the territorial defence forces

Prepared to fight: Former Ukrainian prime minister Oleksiy Honcharuk (right) has joined the territorial defence forces

Prepared to fight: Former Ukrainian prime minister Oleksiy Honcharuk (right) has joined the territorial defence forces

Our people are not scared. There is no panic, just firm resolution as the country unites to fend off the horrifying assault unleashed by President Vladimir Putin. All Ukrainians know that we must fight for our freedom, our future and our nation.

Putin wants to destroy Ukraine. He wants to wipe my country from the earth, folding us into his repressive regime as part of his despotic Russian empire and banishing our independence to the history books.

Yet Ukraine has never attacked anyone, we have never invaded any neighbour and we have never carried out atrocities that might merit a military response. We are peaceful people.

But our ‘crime’ in the eyes of this Russian dictator was to desire democracy, cherish freedom and embrace Europe’s liberal values. Now he wants to crush our country, smash our culture, kill our elites, dismantle our institutions and impose his cruel ideology.

He justifies his attack with talk of ‘denazification’ – although our president is Jewish and we have no extremists holding weird views in government. Like all countries, of course, there are some people with strange outlooks among us, but they hold no sway in our society.

Having served in office under President Zelensky, I am not surprised that he has performed so well in these dark times (pictured together in 2019)

Having served in office under President Zelensky, I am not surprised that he has performed so well in these dark times (pictured together in 2019)

Having served in office under President Zelensky, I am not surprised that he has performed so well in these dark times (pictured together in 2019)

For Putin, the question of ‘denazification’ is no different to when another dictator called Adolf Hitler raised the ‘Jewish question’ – it is used to provide an excuse to target innocent people and to commit the most barbaric deeds to eliminate them.

I was born in a small place in central Ukraine near Vinnytsia – a city that was struck by missiles earlier this month in a salvo that killed civilians and soldiers alike.

Then I spent a wonderful childhood in a northern town called Horodnya. It lies near the border, so was quickly captured by the massive Russian military machine that invaded Ukraine.

This is a Russian-speaking area. Yet do not fall for the propaganda that speaking the same tongue as Putin means you must desire his rule from Moscow. Such is the spirit of defiance in Horodnya that people have been marching under our flag to demonstrate their loyalties – and tragically, as reported by The Mail on Sunday, one local businessman killed himself rather than run the town as a Russian stooge.

For the past 20 years, I have lived in Kyiv. I have seen it blossom after Ukraine threw off the shackles of Russia’s Communist rule and, despite complex internal issues, moved towards the beauty of democracy and freedom.

But now people are dying in Kyiv from the hideous hail of bombs and missiles falling from the skies.

This war began eight years ago when Putin stole Crimea and invaded the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine

This war began eight years ago when Putin stole Crimea and invaded the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine

This war began eight years ago when Putin stole Crimea and invaded the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine

Having served in office under President Zelensky, I am not surprised that he has performed so well in these dark times. I knew he was a bold and brave man, so I never expected him to shirk his duty or run away from difficulties.

He has shown real leadership of Ukraine. If only his courage, determination and unflinching desire to fight for freedom was being matched by presidents and prime ministers across the West.

This war began eight years ago when Putin stole Crimea and invaded the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine. This was the first annexation of sovereign terrain in Europe since the defeat of Hitler. Yet the Western response was weak.

This is why Putin felt emboldened to go so much further by launching his attempted blitzkrieg on the whole of Ukraine.

He looked at the West and saw that it was possible to invade other countries. He told himself Western values were empty and that he could get away with mass murder. Ukrainians are fighting heroically. Our military response has been perfect, despite the billions spent by Putin on the powerful weapons that are killing our soldiers and civilians, devastating our homes and destroying our cities.

But even as this modern-day Hitler commits such evil crimes, the West looks on scared. It has imposed some economic sanctions. But this is not enough. We need military support to protect our nation, support our troops and defend the democratic values for which people are dying in cities such as Kharkiv and Kyiv.

In the besieged port city of Mariupol, more than 80 per cent of homes have been destroyed while innocent families cower in basements and bodies lie on the streets. How can this be happening in 21st century Europe?

This is, incidentally, a predominantly Russian-speaking city – filled with precisely the people Putin claims he is fighting to protect. Yet again, we see the hypocrisy and hollowness of his self-serving ideology.

Putin is looking at the West and smelling the fear as he seeks to redraw borders and destroy one of Europe’s biggest nations. He can take economic pain while it lasts. There is only one thing he understands: Power.

Here is my plea. First, impose total economic and trade isolation on Russia, rather than just freezing assets of corrupt oligarchs and ending sales of burgers. The aggressor must be entirely isolated economically.

Second, we urgently need protection from the skies with a no-fly zone. I am not a military man, so others can debate the best tactics – whether to use your aircraft or provide us with many more – but this is crucial to save thousands of lives.

Third, deliver an ultimatum to Putin that he has a maximum of 48 hours to stop his troops killing people and end the carnage. If not, Nato should respond with its own forces to drive the Russian invaders from our land.

Or will you let him destroy Finland next, arguing the risks of intervention are too great against a nuclear-armed tyrant? Then Lithuania? Perhaps even Poland? This is the salami-slicing approach of the Russians – which was highlighted in a scene in your fine 1980s political satire Yes, Prime Minister, when Jim Hacker was asked about the point of nuclear deterrence.

Western leaders can keep running from the bully for fear of his weapons. But like it or not, we are engaged in a third world war. This is the struggle of our era between democracy and dictatorship – and we are fighting valiantly on the frontline.

Western leaders should not be scared because Putin, like any dictator, feeds off fear. It should be unacceptable to slaughter thousands of Ukrainians. And the longer you restrain your forces, the fiercer the struggle they face in the future.

  • Oleksiy Honcharuk was prime minister of Ukraine from August 2019 to March 2020

Source: Daily Mail

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