Ukraine, one year on, be assured your fight is our fight

Dept of Social Services

Last Friday marked a sad day. Twelve months of the worst land war seen in Europe since 1945.

On Friday night, I was privileged to be invited to share words of support with Melbourne’s Ukrainian community at the vigil in Federation Square.

I had to be there. It was sad to be there. But it was a privilege to be there.

I went there to bring the message that the Australian people stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine.

That the Australian Government stands in solidarity with the Ukrainian Government.

I reassured the people gathered there in sombre silence that the Federal Government is sending practical support to their beloved country.

There’s machinery, like the 90 Aussie engineered Bushmaster armoured vehicles that we are delivering and that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky praised for performing so masterfully in combat. They’re helping protect the Ukrainian defence forces as they secure the territorial integrity of an independent Ukraine.

There are 70 members of the Australian Defence Force in the United Kingdom training soldiers of the Ukrainian defence forces. The first rotation of young men and women of the Ukrainian defence forces to be trained by the ADF have graduated and will return to Ukraine.

The Australian Government is also providing unmanned aerial systems to help Ukrainians in their fight to defend their sovereignty against the Russian invasion.

And another 90 Russian individuals, cronies and collaborators of the dictator Putin now have new Australian travel and financial sanctions against them.

That, in addition to another 40 entities of the Russian war machine being sanctioned by the Australian Government now takes sanctions against the dictator Putin and his criminal cabal to over 1000. The most in Australian history.

If Ukraine cannot have safe borders and its territorial rights respected, then who can?

It was with pride that I told the Ukrainian community and their allies, last Friday, that Australia is among the largest contributors to the defence of Ukrainian soil and Ukrainian independence outside of NATO.

I acknowledge and respect the contribution of Australians of Ukrainian heritage in this country, but this war is more than just supporting Australians of Ukrainian heritage.

This is not some small war in a distant location with no relevance to the Australian people.

It is difficult to ignore the echoes of World War II. But autocrats and dictators try to recreate an era which we thought was consigned to the past.

Ukrainians are fighting for their country and their families and their freedom in a war they did not seek. But they are also fighting for us.

And this is my message to the Australian people one year since the start of this tragic, brutal invasion.

This war is not irrelevant to our future as a nation. As an independent country.

If Ukraine fails, other democracies are weakened.

If Ukraine falls, other autocrats will be emboldened.

If Ukraine cannot have safe borders and its territorial rights respected, then who can?

This is the struggle.

That was why I was privileged to represent the Australian Government at the vigil last week.

As I said to the members of the Ukrainian community, they had the Orange Revolution in the early 2000s and in 2014 in the snow of their Parliament they stood again.

None of them asked for this act of criminal evil, for this unwarranted force.

And I say to the Ukrainian refugees in this country, we did not know much about your homeland. We do now.

Over the last 365 days we have heard of the vast rivers and of the small villages and the farms and the towns where the people of Ukraine are fighting and dying and living and struggling. Places like Kharkiv, Kherson and Kyiv. Now a roll call of honour.

But I say to the refugees who have found peace in Australia, I say to Ukrainians, and Australians of Ukrainian heritage, your fight is our fight and we will go one day longer than the Russian dictator. We will go one day longer and we will support you.

This is not just a test of Ukraine. It’s a test of our democratic Australian values.

Solidarity with Ukraine.

This opinion piece was first published in The West Australian on Wednesday 1 March 2023.

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