Thinking of EU law in a bomb shelter
March 21, 2022

Thinking of EU law in a bomb shelter

When I was returning from Germany to my home in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on 5 February, I was thinking of everything except for EU law. My biggest problem was that I couldn’t squeeze in all the marzipan chocolates I’d bought without breaking my laptop bag. Approaching Kharkiv and seeing the familiar places as the plane was coming in to land, I was anticipating weeks of my mum’s cooking, happy reunions with distant relatives, and cosy evenings over a cup of tea. By the way, I did manage to fit all the chocolates into my bag without tearing it apart, but little did I know what a terrible nightmare awaited me and my homeland.

Kharkiv is approximately 30km from the Russian border. In Ukraine, we are used to saying that our neighbours are given to us by God. I do not know what terrible things the people of Kharkiv must have done to get neighbours like these, but the close proximity to Russia made Kharkiv a hotspot of the war since day one. Shelling and airstrikes have become a part of our daily lives. Running to bomb shelters has replaced my gym routine. Basic supplies and, especially, medication are now sought-after treasures. Seeing how the places of my childhood and youth are turning into rubble is disheartening. Phone calls now begin with the exchange of information on the scale of destruction of neighbourhoods and end with bragging about finding tea or milk somewhere in the city. The city of universities and science is now turning into a city of ruins and despair. No happy reunions. No cosy evenings.

Only war makes one realise fully how immensely valuable peace is. Living without fear of being killed at any moment, hanging out without a curfew in place, finding your favourite food in any quantity you want and without hours-long queues, knowing that your loved ones are safe even when they do not answer calls, having access to medical assistance and choosing a suitable date for a doctor’s appointment – I took all these things for granted. Now I know that peaceful life is a luxury. God only knows when we will be able to afford that luxury again.

Those who have cars and managed to find petrol flee. But this is not a sustainable solution either. One of my neighbours fled to his parents’ home in a remote village. After the first couple of days of relative peace and tranquillity, the village was also hit by massive shelling. As people run towards the West, the war chases them and catches up.

For me, surviving this war is a challenge, both physically and mentally. I cannot remember the last time I had at least six hours of sleep without being woken up by the sound of cruise missiles flying over the roofs. Mentally, living through this war is especially challenging. Not knowing when this nightmare will end makes this brutal crime against humanity even more sadistic. For me, however, there is one more aspect of this experience.

In Germany, I am pursuing a PhD and writing a dissertation in the field of EU law. Union law has been the most exciting and important part of my life since the first year of my bachelor’s studies. It is not a coincidence that I have served as a Young European Ambassador since the launch of this initiative. The idea of maintaining peace and prosperity in Europe by means of the rule of law is something I truly believe in – as an academic, as a citizen, as a Ukrainian, and indeed as a European. What I have seen and gone through in the last three weeks challenges everything I believe in.

International law failed to prevent this war. Peaceful resolution of conflicts in the Hague remains something theoretical, almost fictional. The post-WWII arrangements in Europe, the OSCE and the Council of Europe in particular, also failed. Bloodshed and destruction returned to the continent in an even more aggressive form. The ghosts of the past turned out to be very material and hungry for death. Millions of people flee, carrying nothing but a backpack with them. The rhetoric of the Cold War, after making its return since the first round of aggression in 2014, is now being replaced with the vocabulary of a bloody and merciless hot war.

Shall I abandon everything I believe in? I will be honest: believing in international law after seeing how residential buildings collapse and people die in a supermarket after it was hit with a missile is no longer possible. The global challenges, like the still ongoing Covid pandemic or rapidly worsening climate change, will make the future grimmer than it looked like for our parents who saw the fall of the Soviet Union. I feel like we have to brace for more.

My experiences, however, make my attachment to the European project even firmer. In a world where democracy and human rights are threatened by aggressive totalitarian regimes, the value of the EU increases dramatically. The Eastern border of the Union, which I hope will lie not between Poland and Ukraine but between Ukraine and Russia very soon, is the border of freedom, liberty, rule of law, and prosperity. The goal of any terrorist is to sow fear and make their victims feel hopeless. Losing faith is ultimately submitting to the aggressor. This alone is enough reason to stay strong. An attack against peace does not devalue peace but makes it priceless. This war is a slap in the face of the rules-based international order. This is exactly why we have to maintain that order and strengthen it, at least within the EU.

In all places of the world where democracy prevails, everyone should cherish the institutions they have and the way of life they preserve. This is, however, not enough. We must not only celebrate freedom, we have to fight for it every day. Ukraine is doing it right now. European values are something worth fighting for, after all.

UPDATE: At the end of March, I was able to leave Ukraine after a long, dangerous and tiring journey all the way through Ukraine from East to West. My mom is now receiving some urgent medical care. My thoughts and prayers are with my fellow countrymen who remain in Ukraine. While the worst is now behind me, I look forward to continuing my research and carrying on with my academic pursuits.

Serhii Lashyn is a PhD researcher in EU law at the University of Hamburg, and a Young European Ambassador since 2016. He began his legal education at the International Law Faculty of Yaroslav Mudryi National Law University in Kharkiv, before obtaining a Master’s in Law at the Central European University, then working at a law firm before embarking on his PhD.

Twitter: LinkedIn:

Interested in the latest news and opportunities?

This website is managed by the EU-funded Regional Communication Programme for the Eastern Neighbourhood ('EU NEIGHBOURS east’), which complements and supports the communication of the Delegations of the European Union in the Eastern partner countries, and works under the guidance of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, and the European External Action Service. EU NEIGHBOURS east is implemented by a GOPA PACE-led consortium. It is part of the larger Neighbourhood Communication Programme (2020-2024) for the EU's Eastern and Southern Neighbourhood, which also includes 'EU NEIGHBOURS south’ project that runs the EU Neighbours portal.

The information on this site is subject to a Disclaimer and Protection of personal data. © European Union,