UWC chief on how Ukrainian diaspora around the world helps their motherland in wartime

8 June, 10:44 AM
Pavlo Grod, President of the World Congress of Ukrainians (Photo:Oleksandr Medvedev / NV)

Pavlo Grod, President of the World Congress of Ukrainians (Photo:Oleksandr Medvedev / NV)

The Ukrainian diaspora is helping speed up Ukraine's accession to the EU, organizes protests, raises funds for the army, and is taking care of refugees – almost everywhere except Russia.

Russia's full-scale war has mobilized another Ukrainian front, this one spread across the world — a 20 million strong diaspora.

One of the driving forces behind this process is the Ukrainian World Congress (UWC), which unites the diaspora in over 60 countries.

In early June, Paul Grod, a Canadian businessman and the UWC president, arrived in Kyiv to hold a series of meetings with government and military officials. The New Voice of Ukraine had the chance to speak to Grod about his visit, and the diaspora’s help for the motherland.

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NV: Paul, today [June 3] you are in Kyiv with a delegation of the Ukrainian World Congress. What is the purpose of your visit and who are you meeting with?

 Grod: My first goal is to come to thank and bow before the Ukrainian people — all of those who are very skillfully and thoughtfully defending the country during this unprecedented Russian aggression. The second is to show that today Ukrainians globally and the world stand behind Ukraine.

The third is to understand what are the important issues that we can most influence, and thus help the country. Today is the 100th day of war, and it is important that we understand and hear directly from Ukrainians in Ukraine what their greatest needs are, so that our diaspora can help most effectively.

 We have heard that military assistance remains a priority. And we cannot speak in general sense, but we must convey in our capitals specifically what is needed. Economic assistance is also needed — there is a major deficit in Ukraine and a financial downturn. And it is important that the states in which we [the diaspora] live, hear and understand this.

The third is boycotts and sanctions. We must stifle the Russian economy so that we do not continue to finance the war against Ukraine. And fourth, we work with refugees so that they have a safe roof over their heads and can contribute to the life of the Ukrainian diaspora.

The UWC President is convinced that Ukrainians should take part in political rallies in countries where local governments do not support Ukraine's accession to the EU (Фото: Reuters / Imago Pictures)
The UWC President is convinced that Ukrainians should take part in political rallies in countries where local governments do not support Ukraine's accession to the EU / Фото: Reuters / Imago Pictures

NV: You are advocating for granting Ukraine EU candidate status. How close is the prospect of obtaining this status?

Grod: It is close. I predict that we will get a positive result in June [at the summit of EU leaders], because all the arguments are on our side. We all met for three days in Brussels with leadership of the European Council, the European Commission, and the European Parliament. Obviously, this will not be easy. But we can't give up. Our communities in Europe will play a crucial role, which is why we have developed a strategy for advocating for Ukraine in each country.

This will not happen automatically, because it is politics. That is why Ukrainians in those countries have to engage in political activities. It's at the street level, but it's just the beginning. The main thing is that they are able to enter the offices of decision-makers with the right arguments — whether that’s in Portugal, or in Germany, or in France, or in the Netherlands. We work as one global team to put pressure on local politicians, to prove to them that public opinion in their countries prevails in favor of Ukraine.

NV: There is no unanimity among EU countries to grant Ukraine candidate status. How do you convince those who are against it?

Grod: There are a lot of arguments, but not all of them need to be voiced. We need to look at the arguments from the perspective of the country to which we provide them. Each country looks at Ukraine's accession to the EU through its own prism. For example, the Netherlands has nothing against Ukraine, but they are against EU enlargement. That is, they need to be given arguments as to why this is important. Others look at it purely economically.

There are three powerful arguments. The first is that Europe needs Ukraine, which is a superpower in the agro-industry.

From the point of view of food security, Ukraine is very important for Europe. This also applies to reconstruction. If the country is part of the EU, it is obvious that contracts with European countries will be preferred. And they will rebuild a new, technological, innovative, and green country. And it is important for them that Ukraine be part of Europe, because they will have access to one of the largest European countries.

The second argument is that if they do not grant candidate status, it will inspire Putin to continue fighting against Ukraine. He sees that Europe is weakening, and this puts it at great security risk.

The third argument is that it costs Europe nothing. Candidate status does not entail any obligations, but initiates a process that can take 5-10 years. And it is important that Ukraine attains this (I think it can be fast-tracked).

That is, it is a political decision: there are no legal or financial obligations. We presented those three main arguments when we were in Brussels. And I would say that they were quite powerful and everyone took them on board. But this is the decision of every capital. And we have to work in every capital.

NV: How does the diaspora work in Germany and Hungary, where the fifth column of the Kremlin is quite strong?

 Grod: The community in Hungary has existed for a very long time. They are so-called autochthonous - [indigenous] Ukrainians who have lived here for many years and are even elected to the Hungarian parliament as a minority. We just consulted with community leaders in Hungary a few days ago: they assert that the public supports Ukraine, but the government does not.

Therefore, it is necessary to exert the greatest possible pressure on the government through the public. On the other hand, Hungary will sway in the direction that Germany tells it. The latter has a great influence on both Austria and Hungary.

I was very surprised to hear that Portugal is now hesitant to support Ukraine. And when the leaders of our communities there heard about it, they began to return to Portugal en masse to start promoting this issue.

But Germany and France are key countries that we will work hard on. There are older and newer Ukrainian communities in Germany. They cooperate with us, and we work with them to knock on the right doors.

Through our global network, we can help the young community in Germany reach the highest levels of government. We do this through civil society, our partners, and other ethnic groups like Jews. We are also working with think tanks, looking for different levers to persuade the German government.

NV: Do you feel that you are heard?

Grod: Yes, they do hear us. Even during the last two days, there have been speeches by [German] Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, who have grown more positive [of Ukraine] with every passing day. And Ukraine does have great allies: the President of the European Council Charles Michel, the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen and the President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola.

All of them strongly support Ukraine. This is largely due to President Volodymyr Zelensky and Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, both of whom are very adept at building strong bridges of friendship with those leaders. They have all been to Ukraine and seen atrocities in Bucha, and they are all lobbying hard for Ukraine.

We are a little disappointed with the sixth package of sanctions, because this is not what everyone wanted. But it is also important. When we were in Brussels, many people thought that would not even happen. And it got passed, and although we did not get 100% of what we wanted, we still got 70-75%. We must all be positive. Because very often we get frustrated and give up because we hear that there is no chance. But the truth will always win.

NV: Is the Ukrainian diaspora in Russia manifesting itself in any way?

Grod: They are in hiding. I know the Ukrainian community in Russia very well. The UWC had two vice presidents from Russia, and they were outright persecuted. Criminal proceedings were instituted against them because the UWC was declared an undesirable organization.

I myself have been a persona non grata in Russia since 2014. Over the past two years, all Ukrainian organizations have been liquidated there, and Ukrainian life no longer exists in Russia. Putin is very afraid of Ukrainians, and all Ukrainians are afraid of Putin.

And that's why they are just now trying to survive so that they are not completely broken down. This genocide against Ukrainians in the country may also take place in Russia. It has already happened: the cultural genocide against Ukrainians in Russia has been going on for a long time, it continues and now it is more intense. We should try to give them political backing, but this is very difficult in modern Russia. We tried to support and strengthen them until last year, but this is almost impossible in the current conditions.

NV: How and where did you learn about the beginning of the full-scale war? How was it perceived?

 Grod: With great shock. I remember very well when we heard about it. One of the UWC workers acquired emeritus status at the time, and we had just gotten together for a farewell party. It was a big shock for us when we heard about it. We went back and started planning what to do next.

Before that, we predicted and understood that something would happen — we listened to the intelligence of the United States and United Kingdom. But we never thought that it could be of such a large-scale nature that tanks would go straight to Kyiv, that there would be shelling of the capital and even Yavoriv. I was in Przemyśl just at the border when rockets hit Yavoriv, 20 km from the border. I was there with four American senators — we couldn't believe it was possible. This shows that Putin is preparing to [attack] not only Ukraine but also Europe.

I remember from a meeting at the Ministry of Defense that Russia is preparing a springboard in Ukraine today for the further invasion of Europe. They do not destroy infrastructure, tracks and roads, but simply ruin human lives and try to either exterminate everyone or expel Ukrainians from their country.

And Europe itself is not aware of this. The Belgians, French or Germans think that [further attack on Europe] is impossible and unrealistic. But this is very much comprehended by our neighbors — the Poles, Slovaks, Romanians, Moldovans and the Baltic [people]. The most difficult thing for us will be for Putin's plan to be understood by the central and western countries of Europe.

NV: For all these years, the Ukrainian diaspora has rallied around the challenges facing Ukraine and helped out. To what extent has this full-scale Russian invasion reignited the movement today?

Grod: It has become very active. And this is an indicator of how institutions — the youth, students, political and professional organizations, which we have been building in some countries for 130 years — were able to become more active immediately. There are activists — this is very important and powerful, but when there are already formed communities, they can approach their governments in an organized manner, because they have connections because they are active within their political parties.

This is very effective. And our communities immediately responded and demanded aid, and worked through the media in their countries, and worked with political parties to garner as much support as possible. And we see that the whole democratic world is behind Ukraine. And this is largely due to our diaspora.

I will also say that in a short time, the diaspora has raised almost half a billion dollars and delivered humanitarian aid to Ukraine. When communities gather, they do not keep the money, but immediately buy what they need and hand it over. And there are many such examples. The Ukrainian Canadian Congress raised more than $40 million. And this is just one organization in one country. It brings together many other organizations, each of which collected [money] on top.

The Ukrainian World Congress raised $23 million for body armor and protective equipment [for Ukrainian defenders]. And we have already passed it all on. Today was one of the last transfers — 2,000 bulletproof vests, helmets and [individual first aid kits] IFAKs for defenders.

That is, it is large-scale, active, and efficient.

Refugees are the third topic that our communities have strongly contributed to. We all see those big international organizations, but our communities have done more. For example, I was at the Ukrainian House in Warsaw.

Within a few days of the war, they had a database of 10,000 refugees seeking housing and 10,000 [households] willing to accept them. Also, our communities help a lot financially, set up mini-stores for refugees, which give them the opportunity to come and take things for free. They are asking their governments to provide refugees with safety, medicine, accommodation, equipment, housing and education. This is quite a large scale.

NV: Did you buy the bulletproof vests you mentioned thanks to the UWC's UniteWithUkraine initiative?

Grod: Yes. And this is just the beginning. We hope to attract even more funding. Today, there are large fundraisers in Los Angeles, and we are also planning campaigns around the world. We have met with several donors in Brussels and Davos — this is an ongoing process.

So far, we have raised $23 million and continue to focus on transferring protective equipment to our defenders. I met with many refugees on the Polish border and asked how we could best help them — they asked for help to protect their sons, husbands, brothers, and parents who remain in Ukraine, because they are at the forefront of the conflict and have nothing to defend themselves with.

We heard this and responded with a massive effort to get them protected. We created a logistics hub in Poland, where the necessary items are purchased and immediately transferred directly. They do not fall into the hands of middlemen but are passed directly to those territorial defense units that need it most.

NV: What did the diaspora have to learn from scratch today that they have not encountered before?

Grod: We need to reorient many of our structures to be more flexible, because in the new reality there are a lot of new Ukrainians who need to be involved in our communities as soon as possible. The UWC brings together organizations from 65 countries, and when I travel the world to our communities, I feel at home in each. And it is important that our newcomers feel the same way.

That they come to any country where there are Ukrainians, and know that there is a small Ukraine. They must unite, nurture their Ukrainian identity, and ensure that their children are brought up in the Ukrainian spirit. And the best way to do it is schools, youth and student organizations.

It is a great challenge for us to ensure that NGOs are ready to accept as many refugees as possible. And it's difficult. We have summer camps, but they are designed for several hundred children, not several thousand. And we must learn to work in these new realities. But I am convinced that our diaspora is quite innovative and will handle this challenge.

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