The statement made by Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, on 9 April 2022.
It is wonderful to be here with you, Hugh, with you, Mr President, with you, Justin. It is wonderful to have you here. Indeed, I was yesterday in Kyiv and I visited Bucha. And there are no words for the horror I have seen in Bucha, the ugly face of Putin’s army terrorising people. And I have so much admiration for our brave Ukrainian friends fighting against this. They are fighting our war. It is our fight that they are in. Because it is not only Ukraine fighting for its sovereignty and integrity, but they are also fighting for the question whether humanity will prevail or whether heinous devastation will be the result. It is the question whether democracy will be stronger or if it is autocracy that will dominate. It is the question whether there is the right of might dominating or whether it is the rule of law.
And therefore, this is the reason why, together with Justin Trudeau, with Hugh Evans – and thank you very much Mr President, for hosting it here – we said that they stand up for our freedom, so we stand up for Ukraine. This is the reason why we are here today. And we want to rally the world for refugees, inside and outside Ukraine, to support them. So I hope that many, many people will join.
I want to thank Global Citizen for really activating and mobilising so many artists, sports people and celebrities. Mr President, I want to thank you for hosting us, because this is the country that is hosting two million refugees from Ukraine. So many people are here, who support. Thank you very much for that and let us have a fantastic result for Ukraine.
Q1 Europe has come together in an unprecedented way to support those coming from Ukraine to the bloc. You have activated the [EU Civil] Protection Mechanism and offered direct support to Ukraine itself. Can you tell us a little bit more about those efforts to date, as you stand in solidarity with Ukraine?
President von der Leyen: Yes, indeed, there are four million people, that fled Ukraine, right now in the European Union, and there are six and a half million people within Ukraine who fled the war and they need help. They need urgently help. Here, in the European Union, it means that we have immediately triggered the protection for them that gives them citizens’ rights. So from day one: access to schools, to housing, to healthcare, and of course to the labour market. But of course, they need much, much more. They need support. The Member States are doing an outstanding job. It is phenomenal. The NGOs are working on the ground. The communities, the local communities, are outstanding in receiving the refugees. But as I said, more is needed. And any pledge will help a refugee, here, in the European Union. But also, and this is so important: Any pledge will help a person that is internally displaced, so who has lost their home because of the bombing and shelling of Putin’s army within Ukraine. Yesterday, when I spoke with President Zelenskyy, he urged me again to, first of all, ask for pledges for Ukraine refugees in Ukraine but also to be very clear for those who had to flee Ukraine, that they are welcome here. It is wonderful to have them here and we want to give them shelter and support, and help as much as possible. But President Zelenskyy was also hoping that, pretty soon, you might be able to come back and help rebuild the country. What I want to say is that Europe stands by your side. And I know that Justin Trudeau – I have spoken with him many, many times about it – is fully determined, also with Canada. We stand by your side, be it now in the times of war; be it with the refugees; but most importantly, after this war has been won by Ukraine, for the time for reconstruction and rebuilding the country. So our motto is really: Slava Ukraini.
Q2 We know that conflict is one of the greatest threats to education. And according to UNICEF, more than 350,000 children in Ukraine have already lost access to education. So Madam President, my question to you is this: How do we ensure that this does not become the last issue that gets funded and that we do not end up with a generation of displaced youth with a lost education and compromised health?
President von der Leyen: Yes, indeed, this is one of the most pressing questions because many, many of the refugees are young children and they need immediately access to schools. And of course, children need other children, so they need to be with their peer groups. And therefore, the pledging here is also about supporting the Member States who have refugees and children. I was travelling to Kyiv with the Slovak Prime Minister, and he told me that, in the last four weeks, they got 700 children that need immediately access to kindergarten, for example. Also, you need teachers, you need classrooms, very practical things, very down-to-earth. And therefore, it is so necessary that we support them in that but also in health issues. The normal access to healthcare is important, but we have, for example, many that come that are not vaccinated, not only against COVID-19 but also the basic vaccinations that you normally get in your childhood. So this has to be done. Or there are many that come that have other diseases which are normally not so present in the population. So the access to healthcare is eminent and extremely important. All these are topics where the Member States are really doing a great job and doing their utmost to accommodate. But the more support they get the better. And then, there is a last point. I just wanted to refer to Arina’s last comment. Arina, you are so right. Arina wanted to tell us, rightly so, that of course, we are now speaking about the refugees. But we also have to be very clear towards Putin that this cannot be, this aggression. And therefore, we are imposing heavy sanctions on Putin and his war machine to really dry out that – economic sanctions, financial sanctions. And Arina is right, what we have to do is get rid of the fossil fuel dependency from Russia. This is for us so important. So, we got out of coal. We are looking into oil. And Arina, what we have to do is not only diversify away from the Russian fossil fuel but we also need massive investment in renewables. This is not only good for a strategic investment in independence but it is, of course, also good for our climate and for our planet. So, many, many tasks to look at. And I just wanted to support you on that point, Arina, it is a very important one.
Q3 Many across the globe, are becoming increasingly aware of the wider impacts of this conflict on the global food supply. In fact, their estimates are of up to 500 million people potentially facing food insecurity as a result. So with that in mind, what actions can the EU and the European Community take to prioritise this issue and basically prevent or certainly minimise a global food crisis?
President von der Leyen: Yes, indeed, besides the incredible human suffering that this war brings along and the unbelievable atrocities that we see, there are knock-on effects, for example on global food security. Ukraine is basically the wheat chamber of the world. And now, it is becoming more and more difficult for the farmers in Ukraine to sow and to have the next harvest. And if you see the figures of how many countries, in the global south for example, are dependent on the export of wheat from Ukraine, it is a very, very serious problem. And it is even more serious because, yesterday, the Prime Minister, Denys Shmyhal, told me in Kyiv that Putin’s army is now systematically bombing warehouses, where grain and wheat is stored. Or for example, Ukraine needs to export the wheat by ships, usually, so he is blocking these ships in the Black Sea, therefore increasing the pressure on the food system. So the first thing that we have offered is: ‘Listen, Ukraine, then take the land route and we will create so-called green corridors, so that these transports for wheat can go along through different borders – it is a longer land route, but at least get the wheat out and get some income in, without any difficulties through these green lanes. We do everything possible to support the Ukrainian farmers who need everything to sow, that they can do their work under very difficult circumstances because of their safety. But they are willing to risk their lives, really, to produce the wheat that the world needs. We are giving now EUR 2.5 billion into the global food security, but I know that more will be needed. Because if I look at the numbers, I mean, Ukraine is a major part of the World Food Programme, for example. So this is one of the ugly knock-on effects of this horrible war and one more reason to do everything to end this war.
Closing remarks by President von der Leyen at the global pledging event ‘Stand Up For Ukraine’
Thank you so much, Isha, thank you very much for a splendid moderation, thank you very much. And many, many thanks to you, Hugh, at Global Citizen for, again, standing up for those, who need a strong voice. Those, who we often do not see, do not hear and mobilising, rallying the world, and pushing us politicians hard and the leaders hard. That is your job and it is wonderful to see that.
And Justin, many, many thanks for being a fantastic co-host. It would not have been possible without you. And thank you for your determination, whenever I meet you in our G7 meetings, for example, your intensity of your beliefs and the strength with which you are fighting for the refugees and their needs – I really want to thank you for that.
And when I look into this room here, I know that there are many refugees here in the room. And looking into your eyes and thinking about your thoughts and the fears that you might have, I just want to tell you that we stand by you. I want to thank the citizens, the many, many people who just opened their hearts and their minds, and their doors and want to help you and comfort you. Because they know that the question how we act today might one day also be a question where they need help, and then hope to find citizens that open their minds and hearts and doors for them. And therefore, thank you all for stepping up for Ukraine.
I am very curious what the pledges will bring, and you have seen many, many European Leaders that have pledged for their country. We always speak of Team Europe, these are the 27 Member States and the European Commission. So we will see what the 27 Member States have pledged. But I can only announce today, for the European Commission, that we want to pledge EUR 1 billion, EUR 600 million of those will go to Ukraine, to the Ukrainian authorities, and partially to the United Nations, so that the Ukrainian authorities, who know exactly who is in need, can distribute that. And EUR 400 million will go to the frontline states that are doing such an outstanding job and helping the refugees that are coming.
And the final tally: The world has finally pledged EUR 9.1 billion through this campaign. And, in addition, the Commission, working with EBRD, adds another EUR 1 billion for the IDPs in Ukraine. This is fantastic, so EUR 10.1 billion. And if you say that in dollars, it is even more.