Ukrainian human rights lawyer pleads for Western help

Human rights lawyer Oleksandra Matviichuk, 38, has spent the last three weeks documenting alleged war crimes, and trying to survive, as Russia invades Ukraine. She heads the Center for Civil Liberties in Kyiv, where she lives with her husband.

The first plan of Russia to quickly occupy Kyiv failed. For a lot of days, they tried to circle Kyiv with Russian troops.

They destroyed villages and settlements near Kyiv. They shelled civilian targets.

After every night, we get up in our bomb shelters, and try to understand how many injured people we have after each new attack.

We see only the top of iceberg.

For me, as a human rights defender, it’s important to speak about this war not only in statistics but in concrete human life.

Human rights lawyer Oleksandra Matviichuk has spent the past few weeks documenting war crimes.
Oleksandra Matviichuk/Twitter

It’s not the numbers, it’s the people who had their future. But their future was burnt up with this Russian invasion and now they are dead.

I moved from my flat because it’s more in the ancient part of Kyiv, which can be a possible target. There were no missiles near my current location. But we never know what will be with us within several hours.

We have no right to complain in Kyiv. We have water, we have food. 

Pallets of ammunition, weapons and other equipment bound for Ukraine are secured onto a plane in Delaware.
Tech. Sgt. J.D. Strong II/U.S. Air Force

We have a lot of towns, villages and settlements which are in humanitarian crisis.

In Mariupol people for a lot of days are in basements without food, water, medical care, or without electricity. We know that some people had to heat the snow in order to have water.

We know that they bury their dead in common graves, because there is no possibility under the constant Russian shelling to bury the dead in another way.

President Biden speaks on Ukraine while Antony Blinken looks on.
Getty Images

It’s a real catastrophe.

Russians are deliberately shelling all attempts to provide humanitarian assistance to these people.

Russians kidnapped a volunteer who provided medical assistance to injured people and helped them to evacuate.

She is a medic and she has to be protected by international humanitarian law, but Russians don’t care about it.

Local residents carry water from the food warehouse on the outskirts of Mariupol.
Alexei Alexandrov/AP

Several days ago we had an official statement from our mayor that every second resident had left Kyiv already. We had 4 million people in Kyiv, but that day there were 2 million people. I don’t know how many we have now.

I plan to stay, but I don’t know what will be, because when Russians occupied the cities, the first targets became civil activists, journalists, human rights defenders and people who can provide coordination work. It’s a real threat for a lot of active people in Kyiv.

We need proactive action from the West. We proved that we are fighting for our country, for our people and for the values of the free world. I really hope that the free world will not stand as an observer.

We will need long-range weapons — which we ask for a lot of these days, for all of the three weeks and haven’t gotten it yet.

When ordinary people hear the speeches of Western politicians, they can have a wrong perception that Ukraine gets every weapon which we ask for. It’s not true. We still haven’t [gotten] fighter planes, We still haven’t an air defense system.

Members of a Territorial Defense unit build a bunker at a defensive position on the outskirts of Kyiv.
Chris McGrath/Getty Images

I read that Biden provided the drones for Ukraine. OK, we are grateful. Drones are also a necessity. Drones can’t compare with fighter planes.

We need proactive economic actions. When we go into the details of these measures, we will see that it’s not enough. For example, when we speak about the international payment system Swift, only several Russian banks are banned from Swift, not all Russian banks.

It’s not systematic action. It’s like something – the first step.

But we have no time to wait. During all this debate about whether Ukraine deserves these measures or not, Ukrainians are dying. All this delay has resulted in numerous loss among Ukrainian civilians.

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