Ukraine’s Special Envoy for Africa and the Middle East, Maksym Subkh, says Russia will pay compensation for the damages it has done in Ukraine through its invasion of the country.
In an exclusive interview with PREMIUM TIMES during his Africa tour, Mr Subkh said although Ukraine is already making postwar recovery and rebuilding plans, Russia will be made to pay for the losses.
The Russia-Ukraine war which started 24 February has caused about 6,000 deaths and the displacement of about 14 million people. The constant shelling has destroyed parts of the country and in a recent development, four regions of Ukraine were annexed by Russia.
Mr Subkh in this interview with PREMIUM TIMES talks about his trip to Nigeria, Nigerian students who fled Ukraine, Amnesty International report on the ongoing war and Ukraine-Africa relations.
PT: Why are you in Nigeria at this time?
Mr Subkh: Well, first of all, thank you for hosting me here in Nigeria. Definitely, Nigeria is considered to be one of our most important partners in Africa in Ukraine.
You know that I have been on a tour with my minister, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dmytro Kuleba. We started the tour on 2 October, together with my minister we visited five countries then I continued the tour and I also visited four more countries and actually Nigeria comes at the very end of my tour because we believe that we need to talk with our African friends, partners.
It is very important to be in Nigeria exactly because we now need to open a new page in our relationship. Yes, Ukraine now is in a very difficult moment. Ukraine now is under Russian aggression, as you know, since February, and this war has been waged on Ukraine without any reason, this war is completely unjust.
It is an unprovoked war and now the Ukrainian people are fighting for their freedom, for the right of existence, they are fighting for their land. You see how brave the Ukrainian army is, how many lands and territories we managed to regain from the Russian aggressor.
So I am here just to say to our Nigerian brothers and sisters that we need the support of the whole international community and we must deliver the truth.
People across Africa and across the world must know what is happening in Ukraine; what are the real reasons and pretexts behind the Russian aggression and the occupation and the annexation of Ukraine’s territories -that is the main goal.
Of course, we will be talking with the representatives of the government of Nigeria, about the ways of enhancing bilateral relations in different spheres because as I said, we are interested in developing trade and economic relationships, investments, cultural and humanitarian exchange, including the students of course, and that we will be discussing in more details later.
PT: What is the rationale behind asking students to apply to be expelled in order to receive their transcripts?
Mr Subkh: I will start with the simple fact that when the Russian aggression started on the 24th of February this year, we had more than 28,000 students studying in Ukraine in different universities and institutes.
Then we had more than 8,500 Nigerian students, the Nigerian student community is the second largest one in Ukraine. So definitely, now we are facing so many problems in providing for those students who had to flee Ukraine with an opportunity to resume their study that is why one of the options is online study.
I know that a representative from the Ministry of Education of Ukraine is commencing a visit to Nigeria and the lady is about to deliver a very clear message on how the students can resume and continue their study in Ukraine.
There are several options actually and we would also urge the government of Nigeria to recognise the online studying as a type of programme which is accredited by the government of Ukraine, just to let those students complete the study process in Ukraine and then probably when the situation gets calm and normalised they will be able to be back to continue their study, physically in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, some of them are also able to get back to Ukraine and to enrol into the universities that are located in the western parts of Ukraine, where the hostilities are not so severe or sometimes even you do not see any hostilities there despite of course, the shelling by the Russian army of Ukrainian cities. And you know, there is absolutely no safe city or safe place in Ukraine because the shelling is targeting all the cities everywhere, including the civil infrastructure, which poses a great threat for everybody, including foreign students.
That is why we advise that those students continue their studies online and also, tomorrow I am going to deliver a very clear algorithm on how Nigerian students can continue their study in Ukraine. This algorithm has been adopted by the Ministry of Education of Ukraine, and I was asked to deliver this document to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Nigeria as well as to the relevant authorities here in Nigeria, to advise them on how to inform the students accordingly about the ways and options of the continuation of their study. We also have our embassy which is also aware of that and has the necessary instructions on how to deal with that issue.
So I am sure that everything will be sorted out very soon. I also urge Nigerian students not to go to Russia to continue their study because Russia was behind the disruption of their study the Russian invasion is the main reason they are here and why they had to stop their study in Ukraine.
It is a matter of moral values, I should say. We are trying our best, we even offered an option for those students who had to flee Ukraine to continue their study in some other countries, neighbouring countries with Ukraine, as well as Georgia for example, because we have bilateral treaties with Georgian universities, Hungarian, Romanian universities where those students can continue their study in a way that after they finish their study, Ukraine will recognise their diplomas, their certificates.
PT: So when you say you advise Nigerian students not to move to Russia, does that mean that you are aware of Nigerian students moving there?
Mr Subkh: Actually, there were offers coming out from the Russian side, attracting those who had to flee Ukraine to join Russian universities. But as far as I know, those offers were not free of charge, students have to pay for that.
The second thing is that as I mentioned, morally, it will be incorrect to do so because it’s absolutely immoral to go to a country which was behind all those troubles that were created for the students. I know quite a lot of those African students who graduated and who had to leave Ukraine because of the war.
They really became patriots of Ukraine. They really became patriots of their native country and Ukraine and they clearly realise and understand what is behind that aggression. As I said, at the very beginning, it was absolutely unjust, unfair and unnecessary
PT: Africans have suffered from racism or racist acts all over the world. And if you are looking to build a partnership or a relationship with Africa, I would imagine that you would support the resolution against racism sponsored by Côte d’Ivoire at the UN. But Ukraine moved against that call. Why did that happen?
Mr Subkh: Actually, I have to clarify that we have very close coordination between our permanent mission to the UN and all African representative offices in the United Nations.
As I said, the government of President Zelensky and Minister Kuleba, they are looking towards opening a new page with the African continent.
In light of the Russian aggression, if you take a look at the latest UN resolution, which was voted on and was devoted to the condemnation of the Russian aggression and annexation of Ukrainian territories, you will find that there is no African country which voted against (it). We have a majority of countries voting for that resolution, which was brought out by Ukraine and several co-sponsors, including African countries. It is a big step forward that shows that Africa is getting more and more involved. The more war continues in Ukraine, the more it becomes an eye-opener for the African continent.
I believe that we need closer cooperation and closer coordination between our sides. Also, I hope that my visit to Nigeria and the tour which was conducted by the minister and myself will help really to get our positions closer, closer not only just on the bilateral level, but also multilaterally.
Regarding other resolutions, I should say that we need to communicate, we need to talk more. Ukraine absolutely has nothing to do with racism. I will tell you why – because in our parliament we have Afro-Ukrainian people; we have MPs of African descent. One of them was together with me yesterday in South Africa and we were also conducting meetings explaining that – this is the thing that you will never find in Russia, for example.
We believe that all people should live in freedom, should live in justice, and we have to coordinate our stances and positions on all levels. So tomorrow, I hope I will hold meetings in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
PT: Still on this UN resolution and Ukraine voting against concrete action, don’t you see that move jeopardising the reason for your trips to Africa?
Mr Subkh: Well, actually generally, since we have applied for membership in the European Union, Ukraine always coordinates and adheres to the position of the European Union countries.
So we have to see, I mean, every issue has to be studied separately. So sometimes, as I said, before the war, the situation was completely different and now under Russian aggression, Ukraine is reviewing and revising its position towards many, many issues and many international problems.
I do not see that anything is jeopardising our visit to Africa because we maintain transparent, equal relations. Our cooperation is built on a win-win basis. That is why I think that if there is any issue that needs to be tackled, that is a good opportunity for our countries and our peoples to negotiate, to open dialogue and I believe that only through dialogue can our positions get closer.
PT: If I get you clearly, you are saying that the stand of Ukraine on the resolution was the EU stand?
Mr Subkh: Generally, we have a long history of cooperation and coordinating our stances. So I would not be paying so much attention to that resolution because you know, we have a history of voting for pro-African resolutions.
Ukraine had an independent and separate seat in the United Nations since this organisation was founded. Then Ukraine was one of the founders of the committee for fighting apartheid and racism; that was in the 20th century.
But since the very beginning of Ukraine’s activity as a member of the United Nations, Ukraine always adhered to the UN Charter and national law and the relevant resolutions. Well, I believe that Ukraine is a purely democratic state. Ukraine believes in the values that most of humanity believes in and adheres to, that is why I firmly believe that we have a very bright future in Ukrainian-African relations.
PT: We see that the UAE is facilitating some kind of peace conversations between Ukraine and Russia and we saw a swap of prisoners between both countries. Does that look like a ray of sunshine and the end of the war is near?
Mr Subkh: Actually, we are grateful to all our partners who are trying to do their best to facilitate an end to this war, and to put an end to the Russian aggression. From the very beginning, several countries, including Turkey and some Arab countries, offered their good services and goodwill to bring the two parties together to put an end to the Russian aggression and to the war in Ukraine.
Actually, the mediation efforts of Turkey were very much successful and Turkey helped also to arrange and to sign the well-known grain deal, which facilitated in securing the food security of Africa, Asian countries and the Middle East, which was very important.
Then the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia also was part of a very important prisoners of war swap deal, which was also a success and Ukraine managed to bring back quite a big number of prisoners.
Now we have talks with the United Arab Emirates as the Emirati President has visited Moscow before that, and we always ask our partners not to talk about Ukraine without Ukraine. So everything which has relation or connection to Ukraine, we always urge our partners to discuss this issue with us directly.
That is why I hope that the role which the United Arab Emirates is about to play, or the mediation efforts that the United Arab Emirates is going to introduce, will be beneficial for both sides. But unfortunately, we do not trust Russia and we cannot trust Russia, because just one example, when the grain deal was signed on 22 July, on the next day Russia bombarded some grain facilities in Odessa port, with no reason for that.
So now we are also aware about the possibility that Russia might refuse to extend the grain deal after 22 November. So just to seize this opportunity, I would like also to call all our partners in Africa and the Middle East to urge Russia to extend that deal because Russia is using grain and foodstuff as a tool, as a weapon against many countries and many nations who are on the brink of real hunger. And probably you know that a couple of weeks ago, President Zelensky signed a decree to donate up to 50,000 tonnes of grains to both Ethiopia and Somalia.
From the very beginning of the opening of the wheat or grain corridor, Ukraine has already dispatched about one million tonnes of grains towards Africa. So we are doing all possible to remain a trustworthy guarantor of food security in Africa and the world.
PT: What sort of conditions can bring a truce between Russia and Ukraine?
Mr Subkh: As President Zelensky said, Ukraine is not interested in a truce or a peace that will be temporary. We need a peace deal. But this peace can be reached only after Russia withdraws completely from the occupied territories of Ukraine. And President Zelensky warned President Putin many times that any new attempt of annexation of new territories from Ukraine will close the window of opportunities for direct dialogue or peace talks between both parties and that is what happened.
Russia has annexed two more territories. Now we have more than 21 per cent of Ukrainian territory under Russian occupation. So now we do not see that there is any possibility for both presidents to talk directly. So we will be continuing (the) fighting and we are getting a lot of support from our Western partners in the United States, including military ones.
We are fighting and we are making progress and we are regaining considerable parts of our annexed territories, and we will continue that fight until Russia pulls out. Russia is bearing huge losses and the consequences are very dire for the Russian army and for the Russian economy.
We believe that with the political help of our partners across the world, combined with military aid, we (Ukraine) will be able not only to stand but also to liberate the whole Ukrainian territory.
PT: Is Ukraine likely to give up its NATO membership bid?
Mr Subkh: It is a very important question. Thank you for asking me that question. Before 2014, Ukraine was keen on being neutral. In 2014 as you remember, Crimea was annexed and parts of Donbas were also occupied by Russia. In 2014, we decided to apply for membership in NATO and this application or this right to become a member of NATO is enshrined in our constitution, both to the European integration and Euro-Atlantic integration. Both of them are in our constitution.
We never sought to be a part of any political or military bloc or alliance. But when Russia annexed our territories and Russia turned from a guarantor of Ukraine’s security and territorial integrity into a violator of that territorial integrity, so we had nothing to do but to find a party or an alliance that could secure and preserve Ukraine’s integrity and independence.
And we have to underline that NATO is a purely defensive bloc. We believe that NATO is really able, once Ukraine is a part of that bloc, NATO will be able to protect Ukraine.
President Zelensky, when the war started and the aggression of Russia began, said that the issue of Ukraine being a part of NATO, or giving up its application to become a member of NATO is a debatable issue. But when, as I mentioned, Russia annexed more territories, membership of Ukraine in NATO became inevitable.
PT: So that is now not negotiable?
Mr Subkh: We have now to make Russia pull out of our lands; once Russia withdraws then other issues can be discussed. But we will never discuss anything under threats and ultimatums and under constant shelling of our cities.
PT: About the Kamikaze drones ditto Iran, Russia, and Ukraine. There has been a lot of conversation around that and how Ukraine is saying that Iran is complicit and an accomplice to Russia in destroying Ukraine. So what is that whole conversation about?
Mr Subkh: Yeah, just mentioning the sham referenda that Russia has organised over the newly annexed Ukrainian territories. I am grateful to Nigeria and to all other African countries, which did not recognise them. I am sure that no country in the world will do this because they were organised in contradiction to international law.
Regarding the drone issues and drone supplies, which are believed to be produced in Iran, so it is true, and it is really very alarming. And we had after discovering that, and after gathering more and more data and evidence, proving that Iran is really supplying those drones to Russia, and that Russia is using those drones against Ukrainian objects and targets.
Several weeks ago, Ukraine decided to expel the Iranian Ambassador from Ukraine and also to significantly decrease the number of Iranian diplomats in Ukraine. We urged the Iranian side not to be a part of the Russian aggression against Ukraine. Now we consider Iran as an accomplice in this war.
Also, we heard news and messages saying that Iran is also going to supply different types of missiles to Russia, which we definitely believe and know that Russia is going to use against us.
I just also would like to seize this opportunity to address my words to the Iranian government not to be involved in this brutal aggression against my country, because Iran used to be a very important trade and economic partner for Ukraine in the Middle East and Asia. We believe that being a part of this aggression does not work for the interests of Iran. But if Iran does not stop its support to the Russian government and the Russian army in its aggression against my country the consequences will be very devastating for our bilateral relations.
PT: But Iran has denied all these allegations.
Mr Subkh: Well, politically, Iran can deny that but on the ground, we have gathered so much evidence that those drones are made in Iran, and Iran is supplying them in huge quantities for the interests of the Russian army. So as I said, we urge the Iranian government to stop those supplies. But unfortunately, it seems they do not care.
PT: An Amnesty International report in August said Ukraine is endangering civilian lives by building military bases in residential areas around hospitals and the rest of them. That violates international humanitarian laws. How do you address this concern?
Mr Subkh: Well, immediately after this report was published, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine severely rebuffed this organisation for being biased, because Amnesty International had to do a very thorough investigation on the terms of the war.
Russia actually is using every possible way to endanger the Ukrainian population. Russia is using the civil facilities as shelters, and also they target our army from inside the cities. You know, that since 2014, the Russian troops were present physically at Donbas and that was the reason the Ukrainian army could not get in and was not able to liberate Donbas because of the presence of the Russian army. The other point is that in the Minsk agreements, they envisaged that Ukraine had to organise a referendum on those territories.
But many times we asked Russia to withdraw their troops from Donbas to enable the Ukrainian side to hold a transparent and legal referendum over the Donbas but the Russians never agreed. That was one of the reasons why they were intending to stay and to be present militarily in Donbas.
That is why, in the light of the Amnesty International report that you have mentioned, we called upon Amnesty International and other organisations not to take biased stances and to investigate all the details from both sides of the war.
Ukraine is very transparent. Ukraine is ready to open all its facilities, in case it is necessary, to make sure that Ukraine has never developed any laboratories or has never established any military bases on its territory.
We have entered the eighth month of the war, has anyone seen any evidence of those military bases and or the laboratories, which the Russian side claims? I am sure that it’s not the case.
I am sure that our army is defending our people. And when the Russian army entered and occupied Ukrainian cities, no one met them with flowers or with open hearts and minds. Vice versa, the people were resisting and still resisting because people do not want to be brought back again to the Soviet era, to the era of the absence of freedom, absence of the right of speech.
We are a purely democratic country. Since independence, we have had six presidents while Russia had only two. So that is a bright example of how democratic Ukraine is and how Ukraine really follows the principles of democracy, the rule of law and human rights.
PT: So you are saying Amnesty International is biased in that report? And it is rather Russia who is setting up military bases in residential areas, not Ukraine?
Mr Subkh: Russia is definitely doing that. The other thing that I would like to add is that the chief of the Amnesty International Office in Ukraine resigned immediately after this report was published.
And the lady said that the report was published despite the objections of the Ukrainian office of Amnesty International and there were no consultations made and the office which is in Ukraine had no chance to be acquainted with the report.
So the report was published without prior notice. And that was the reaction of the Ukrainian office of Amnesty International towards this biased report.
PT: One day, the war will end. Are there postwar recovery and rebuilding plans in place?
Mr Subkh: There are very concrete plans to rebuild Ukraine. We already have a list of our international partners who are willing already to embark on different projects and programmes for the postwar rebuilding of Ukraine.
But we should not forget that Russia will be held responsible for the compensation of all the losses that it caused; Russia will be paying for the damage in Ukraine. Along with that, of course, Ukraine is working with international financial institutions together with donor countries to offer them concrete projects and in fact, any country, whether wealthy or not, is encouraged and welcome to participate.
Some countries can just simply rebuild a small school or a kindergarten or a small hospital or whatever. So by joint efforts of our friends across the world, we believe that we will be able to rebuild Ukraine very quickly and Ukraine will be again, a prosperous and successful country which lives in peace and lives in harmony with all its neighbours.
PT: Can Ukraine recover these territories, bearing in mind Russia’s threats that any attempt on this region is a direct attempt on Russia?
Mr Subkh: Well, we do not see any other way than just to liberate those territories and also through political and diplomatic ways.
The more we get international support, the more the pressure on Russia will be increasing and simply, we will never recognise the annexation or the loss of our territories. Because if we do, that would mean the disintegration of the whole country.
No country in this world would accept a bargain on its sovereignty and territorial integrity. So we have 21 per cent of our territories now under occupation and annexation. We will liberate them, we will fight until the last drop until we regain those lands and territories.
Of course, there is an option for Russians to withdraw and to stop this war, but it seems like, under this regime in Russia, they are not going to follow this path.
PT: Do you think that the sanctions are working on Russia?
Mr Subkh: We believe that the sanctions are needed and required. The sanctions had already played an important role in weakening the Russian military machine. Of course, they are not enough; only the sanctions are not enough to stop this war because the economic potential and military one which Russia enjoys is huge, is immense.
But these sanctions have to be consistent and they need to continue and there are already seven packages of international sanctions imposed on Russia and the Russian economy.
We believe that only under these sanctions, the Russian economy will be getting more and more weak. And of course, that in a way will help Ukraine to liberate its lands. It will also send a clear message to the Russian people that Putin’s regime is doing a wrong thing and once they stop doing that, the sanctions will be lifted.
Russia is telling the world that the food scarcity and the food shortage in Africa has become a result of the sanctions but it is simply not true because the sanctions have never been imposed on exports of foodstuff or wheat or even fertilisers.
The real cause of the food insecurity in Africa and all other parts of the world was the blockade of the Ukrainian seaports. That is the message which I wish all countries, including Africa, understand clearly.
PT: So is it a question of the sanctions not being enough or they are ineffective?
Mr Subkh: I believe that they are effective enough, but there are some ways that Russia is able to skip those sanctions with the help of Russia’s partners and close allies. So that is why we are addressing those countries and those parties not to help Russia avoid the sanctions. Once we agree on that, we will see a direct result and a very strong impact on Russia’s economy, which will, as I said, lead to the weakening of the Russian war machine.
PT: Russia and Ukraine are neighbours and you speak almost the same language. When will you learn to coexist peacefully?
Mr Subkh: I think the peaceful coexistence between Ukraine and Russia starts where Russia realises and understands that Ukraine is a sovereign nation.
Ukraine is a nation that deserves and has the right and will live independently because we are not a part of Russia and we have been a part of Russia only by force. We were forced to be part of the Russian empire throughout history but we always fought for our independence and for our sovereignty. We have our own language, we have our own culture or history. The ancient Russ Empire was established in Kyiv. So Kyiv is the old motherland of the old Russ cities. Christianity also spread throughout Eastern Europe from Kyiv. That is why we have deep roots of our national statehood, which we do not want to give up. Ukraine now has been living the longest period of its independent history as an independent state since 1991; we have never been independent so long.
We have never been as a nation so united as we are after the full-scale Russian aggression. So the people of Ukraine are very patriotic and at the same time they are a very peaceful nation. We are a peaceful nation which believes in peaceful coexistence with everybody. And we never waged wars against anyone, but we will not let anyone deprive us of our history from our roots and our right to live independently.
PT: In very clear terms, what will be done about the expulsion clause for Nigerian students in Ukraine?
Mr Subkh: Well, I am sure that my visit will contribute to sorting out this issue. And we are working hard to meet the interests and to tackle problems that Nigerian students encounter currently, and the Ministry of Education is working thoroughly and very precisely on this issue pertaining to Nigerian students because of the large number of those students who had to flee from Ukraine.
Once again, I will add that we have a representative of the Ministry of Education here and now in Abuja and we will be meeting together tomorrow in the Ministry of Education, and the ways and options of facilitation will be provided directly to the Ministry of Education of Nigeria which will distribute that information accordingly to those who are interested.
Chika Igba assisted with transcribing this interview
Support PREMIUM TIMES' journalism of integrity and credibility
Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.
For continued free access to the best investigative journalism in the country we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.
By contributing to PREMIUM TIMES, you are helping to sustain a journalism of relevance and ensuring it remains free and available to all.
TEXT AD: Call Willie - +2348098788999