Resisting Aggression: The Resilience of Ukraine with Lisa Yasko

Member of Ukrainian Parliament, Lisa Yasko, addresses the 16th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see below for her remarks.

Full Remarks:

Dear friends, dear colleagues,

I’m very glad to be here in Geneva. And you know, two days ago when I was flying here and I was looking at the Geneva lake from my flight, from my plane, I was thinking about the first time in my life years ago when I was coming here and looking at Geneva lake and thinking – “Oh my god. How beautiful it is,” from the flight. Have you seen the depth of the color of Geneva lake? 

But this time, when I was flying, I had very heavy feelings. Because it’s been longer than two years — I cannot see the beauty of our lakes, rivers, our soil, from the flight, in Ukraine. I cannot fly from Ukraine to anywhere. To get anywhere, it takes longer than 24 hours. But the most touching and sensitive and hard part is you cannot see that beauty. And you know that even the sounds and the nature and the animals are suffering a lot from that. 

Since February 2022, we have had millions of tragedies of killed, wounded, absolutely destroyed cities. Around 90% of the infrastructure of Mariupol is absolutely destroyed. We don’t have the real numbers – it’s only approximate numbers – but at least 25,000 people only in one city of Mariupol are killed. Currently, we have another terrible number – more than 20,000 Ukrainian children are being illegally deported to Russia. Russians are taking Ukrainian children to so-called “camps.” They lie to the parents or they kidnap these children, and later on they say, “Your parents don’t want you,” and they impose citizenship on these children. And these children already have terrible traumas for the generations to come. 

And when I am telling you all of this, I’m thinking that the Ukrainian spirit that we had in February 2022, when so many different politicians were coming to me saying that you should stay somewhere in Western Europe or wherever, because you shouldn’t go to Ukraine, you would be killed, you would be arrested, because Russians would be looking to destroy all the parliament, all the authorities in Ukraine. But we felt like, “Why do you intimidate our spirit? Why do you think that we should go somewhere else?”

In my life – and I am 33 – I have had two revolutions where we were standing on the streets to defend our right to live in freedom. To defend our European freedom. And you know, in February 2022, most Ukrainians were shocked that it is not only an incredibly big tragedy, but also it feels that we are the ones who know the real price of freedom. We are the ones that are screaming to all the world “Please. Impose sanctions. Give us more weapons.” But it seems that it was the moment that uncovered how many problems we have in our international security system. Why do such organizations as the UN, as other international organizations, not have the tools to protect that freedom? 

That was the moment that we understood that we have to resist. We didn’t have a single moment of hesitation because it’s absolutely a survival to be able to live on your land. That’s something that’s worth fighting for. 

You know, when I was passing the border going to the European Parliament and the Council of Europe a few weeks after the invasion started, there was one thing that struck me a lot. Just a few seconds after crossing the border, I heard that the birds are singing.  And that was the moment when I realized “Oh my god. I wasn’t hearing the birds singing for a number of weeks.” I’ve heard so many air sirens, I’ve heard so many shellings, I’ve heard so many air missiles – but the birds, actually, are singing. But not when the bombs are flying.

You know that every moment when there is an attack on Ukraine, at every animal shelter, the animals have heart attacks, or they’re getting paralyzed. We don’t have the real numbers of how much agriculture has really suffered. But only for the first year of the invasion, we have numbers from our Ministry of Agriculture policy of Ukraine, and it’s at least 500,000 animals from agriculture that were absolutely killed or destroyed from the places they were. We also have the number that around 900 dolphins were found dead in the Black Sea, but the real number can be more than 50,000. 

Where is justice? This is the question that we all ask. And in February 2022, I was asking this question. Not only because of the war, but also because I was seven months pregnant. And at that time, the father of my child was six months politically imprisoned in Georgia. He is the former President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili, who fought against Putin and Russia. And he was arrested in Georgia for his opposition against Putin. During most of my pregnancy, I was visiting him in prison, defending him, but in February 2022, the world seemed to be an absolute hell. 

Imagine a moment when the birds have stopped singing. Imagine a life where you need to take a weapon to defend your ability to have a drink on a Friday night, or to have a conversation with your family. Imagine a life where your child might never see the school again where he or she studied. Where your house or your farm is flooded, and every animal in your local zoo is dead. Where your children cannot play in the park, and the only thing that you can hear is this sound: [droning air missile sound]. 

This is the sound that for many Ukrainians feels like the sound of death. The sound that an air missile is flying somewhere and it may reach you within a few minutes, or half an hour. But Russians manage to create an air missile that flies from Crimea to Kyiv in only three minutes. And in Kharkiv, in Sumy, currently the Russians are attacking almost every second minute, and the level of destruction is insane. 

So what has changed since February 2022? For us, Ukrainians, we’ve learned that we shouldn’t be naive, and we should rely only on ourselves. 

And everyday, our energy infrastructure is absolutely challenged, but our electrical engineers are making magic under the bombs to restore the ability to have light for millions of Ukrainians. Our farmers keep going to work on the land, even when the land is mined. And at least 30% of Ukrainian land is Covered in mines. 

And I’m saying this to you to ask you one question: are you taking your security seriously? What did you do to protect your freedom to vote in your elections? Are you sure that Russian influence will not affect your political choice? Please think about it. 

And today I am standing in front of you not only as a Ukrainian politician. I’m standing here as someone who knows the real price of freedom that we pay, I pay personally. When for me everything personal became absolutely existential and political and geopolitical. When all my professional is all about personal – its ability to have a day of freedom. We are fighting not because we are Ukrainians. We are fighting because we want all of you to make sure that international organizations that are very often dysfunctional finally rethink their own purpose and create their own tools to stop the wars and aggression. We should have early warnings to stop possible aggression to invade another country. 

The principles of the UN and other organizations will not result from the Second World War. Now is the time to do it. I’m here also to ask you for more sanctions because sanctions really work to stop feeding the Russian aggressor. I’m here also to ask you for the corporate responsibility of the companies. Do you know how many different details of different technical stuff is being exported to Russia that Russia is later using for producing weapons? So please make sure that in your companies, you impose the code of corporate responsibility, of not having any trade or export that may end up in Russia. 

I’m standing here because I want peace. As a mother, as a woman, as a human, as a European, I want peace. But not at the cost of giving up our territories. Not at the cost of forgetting what real freedom is. So don’t ask me, please, when the war will be over. Ask why Putin keeps doing it. Ask inside your societies what did you do to protect your securities. 

We all need justice. And for that justice, it’s possible to run the compensation mechanisms for those who suffered. It’s possible from the frozen assets that are currently in different countries to transfer them to the register of damages that every Ukrainian – and it’s not only about every Ukrainian, it’s symbolically very important that we will have justice, that the victims will receive compensation for that suffering. 

It’s incredibly important for the justice of the future. So if you care about freedom, then stand with Ukraine. If you care about justice, then please make sure that you take security seriously to be able to protect the sound of freedom. 

The sound of birds singing. 

Thank you.


16th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, U.N. Opening, Tuesday, May 14, 2024


Dear friends, dear colleagues. You know when I meet you here, for me it feels very special but also very heavy. 

Because I know that during the last two years, we in Ukraine went through a feeling of such injustice cannot exist to understanding how much injustice currently is in the world. And you know, yesterday when I was flying here in the plane, I was looking at Geneva lake, and I remembered my first time when I saw Geneva lake years ago when I was coming to one of the peace conferences here in Geneva. And I remember how beautiful it was. But yesterday, I was having very heavy feelings. First of all, because I cannot fly directly from Ukraine anywhere now. Secondly because it takes more than 24 hours to get anywhere. And thirdly, I cannot see the beauty of my lakes, my rivers, of my soul, of my country, the way I could see yesterday Switzerland. 

And the ability to see and hear your nature was actually something that absolutely struck me in March 2022 when the war started, the full scale invasion. I remember my first time leaving, going through the border of Ukraine, going to Strasbourg to the Council of Europe to EU Parliament. And do you know what struck me? That the birds were singing. And for me it was very shocking to know that for a number of weeks since the start of the war, I wasn’t able to hear the birds just because there were bombs, air sirens, and so much despair. And today, unfortunately, I know that there is not so much progress on that. There are even more problems there, there is even more invasion, and more aggression. 

Which means that in the world, we did not have enough tools to protect democracy and the freedom and territorial sovereignty of Ukraine, but not only Ukraine. 

Back then in February 2022 I was seven months pregnant and the father of my child, Ukrainian citizen and former president of Georgia Saakashvili, who was politically arrested six months before that. So for me, the price of freedom is very high and very personal. I know what it means when freedom is taken from you, when every day becomes a survival. 

I really hope that during these days we will discuss what tools within international organizations we can work on that we will be having an absolutely new approach on protecting human rights, on stopping the aggressors to commit the crimes. 

There are many possible things that we can do together, and I hope that we will remember and we will be able to hear the birds singing and the beauty of our lands without so much suffering. This is our purpose. That’s why we are here. Thank you.


Speakers and Participants

Lisa Yasko

Member of Ukrainian Parliament and founder of the NGO Yellow Blue Strategy


War Crimes

Diary of an Invasion: Eyewitness to Russia’s War on Ukraine with Andrey Kurkov

Highly-acclaimed Russian-born Ukrainian novelist known for his unwavering criticism of Vladimir Putin who reported on the situation on the ground in Ukraine following Russia’s invasion, Andrey Kurkov, addresses the 15th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see below for his remarks. Full Remarks Do I have the right to be tired

War Crimes

The War in Ukraine: An Eyewitness Account with Olga Aivazovska

Forcibly displaced Ukrainian civil society leader and Chair of the NGO Opora, Olga Aivazovska, speaks at the 14th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see quotes below, followed by full prepared remarks. On the Russian invasion of Ukraine: “There is nothing special about me, my only superpower is that I’m Ukrainian.”