What EU Candidate Status Means to Me: Violetta’s Story
May 2, 2024

What EU Candidate Status Means to Me: Violetta’s Story

As part of the European Youth Event (EYE) Berlin, Ukrainian YEA Violetta Kukuruza was invited to speak on a panel called “EU and The World: Foreign Affairs and Enlargement in Our Union.” Delivering a 15-minute speech to an audience of 150+ people, Violetta spoke about the mutual benefits of EU and Ukrainian cooperation and what EU Candidate status means to her and her country. Here’s what she said…

Hi, my name is Violetta and I am a Young European Ambassador from Ukraine. I am 19, a civil activist and a youth worker from Crimea and then Kyiv. Right now, I am serving as a European Solidarity Corps volunteer at a peace building organisation in Berlin, while also working on the integration projects for refugee youth.

Photo of Violetta speaking at the EYE event

As a young Ukrainian, I am a witness to the challenges and aspirations of a nation at a crossroads. For many of us, Ukrainian youth, the European Union represents not just a coalition of countries but a beacon of hope, a community we have long aspired to be a part of.

I was born in Crimea, the peninsula along the Black Sea in the south of Ukraine. In the winter of 2014, I watched my grandma sitting in front of the TV with tears in her eyes. We were watching  the events of The Revolution of Dignity, a historic moment marked by mass protests across Ukraine. These demonstrations, known to some as “Euromaidan”, were our fight against the corrupt pro-Russian government, our attempts to protect democracy, the rule of law, European integration, and the basic human rights we were deprived of.

Despite the cold of winter, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians united in spirit and purpose and took to the streets to demand their right to freedom and independence from Russian influence. It was a time of unparalleled courage and determination, as ordinary citizens stood shoulder to shoulder, defending our collective vision for a future within the European Union.

That winter, many people lost their lives for our chance to move towards a path of European integration. Till this day they are our sombre reminder of the price of liberty and a clear course we set for the future—freedom.

In February of 2014, right after the Revolution of Dignity, Russia started a war, illegally occupying my homeland, Crimea, and parts of Eastern Ukraine. My family was forcefully displaced. But as we crossed the previously nonexistent border by foot, leaving everything we had behind, there was still hope. Hope nurtured by the people who stood in solidarity with us and believed that Ukraine is a part of Europe not just geographically; it is rooted deeply in our shared values and collective actions.

Photo of Violetta representing her home, Crimea, at the EYE event

Eight years later, in February 2022, Russia started a full-scale invasion. Everyone was terrified. One day, in the early morning, we woke not from the alarm calling us to school or parents inviting us for breakfast. We woke up from explosions, air raid alarms and the trembling voice of our loved ones on the phone whispering “it began”.

I would not be able to describe all the horrors of war – thousands of killed and injured children, cities erased from the face of the Earth, tortured civilians and soldiers. But I may try to use this opportunity today to say how much we cherish all of your support.

We are so grateful for every person who remembers that we are out there: in a bomb shelter, in occupation, on the frontlines or scattered around the world, trying to build a new life from scratch without survivors’ guilt.

Therefore each word of encouragement, a donation, a minute dedicated to learning about what’s happening in Ukraine right now – we cherish it all and we will always remember everything you have done to help us protect our country and the whole of Europe from Russian aggression.

Violetta’s photo from solidarity demonstrations in Berlin, Germany

During these difficult times, the European Union’s support for Ukraine has been truly vital. From €83 billion in humanitarian aid and military support to economic stabilisation. The activation of the Temporary Protection Directive is also a significant example of this solidarity, allowing Ukrainians to seek refuge, work, and education within EU member states.

You have adopted economic sanctions against Russia, aided us with necessary instruments to begin rebuilding our country, and granted Ukraine and our amazing neighbours Georgia and Moldova EU candidate status. All these steps mean the world to us. And show Europe’s determination in addressing armed conflicts in the region.

We know that some decisions are not easily made and that the war can be draining. But please, stay strong. The war is not over. Recently, due to the lack of ammunition, another Ukrainian city, Avdiivka, has fallen. The city we could have protected but didn’t have the necessary equipment to.

So while we pay the ultimate price – thousands of human lives – to secure peace in Europe, we need all of your support. The support we truly value and will always remember.

As a person who is engaged in youth work, civic activism, and supporting individuals impacted by war, I have met and worked with hundreds of young Ukrainians. They see the European Union as a beacon of hope, a chance for the future anchored in the principles of liberty and justice. Moreover, from a very young age they have actively taken steps to pursue European integration: From popularising EU values through programmes like the Young European Ambassadors’ Initiative, participating in EU-funded youth exchanges, to organising social projects and working on anti-corruption policies. We have worked and will continue to work hard to ensure that our “European dream” comes true. 

Your expertise has already helped us to strengthen our efforts in addressing corruption, enhancing media freedom and advancing human rights, including the rights of minorities and indigenous peoples. It’s great to have a role model like you.

In return, we are determined to contribute to the collective well-being of the European Union. We hope to share the brilliant minds of our highly educated people, the strength of our hands, and the practical experience in national security, healthcare, and environmental protection. 

Violetta on 22 February 2024

Apart from expertise in military logistics and cyber security, there is more. In the area of healthcare, Ukraine has developed a system capable of managing large-scale medical crises. This expertise is something Ukraine is ready to share across the EU, enhancing the union’s emergency responsiveness and the quality of psychological support.

In the environmental sector, Ukraine brings to the table a unique experience of managing natural resources especially under crisis conditions. By integrating our experiences with addressing environmental challenges caused by armed conflict, the EU can advance its ambitious goals under the European Green Deal.

What I am trying to say is that we are a good match – in our values, actions, and vision for the future. Ukraine and our youth have a lot to learn. But we also have a lot that we can bring to the table and we are looking forward to all of our future partnerships and collaborations.

The European Union has always been a powerful example of how unity can foster peace. When we were granted EU candidate status, it was not just a political milestone; it was a moment of profound significance for every Ukrainian. Streets across our nation were filled with people of all ages celebrating a dream that many feared would remain just that – a dream.

This candidacy status is a promise of a future where next generations could grow up in a society that values justice, embraces diversity, and upholds human dignity. It is the promise of peace. After years of conflict and uncertainty, it is a promise to our children that their future will be brighter, safer, and full of life, not just attempts to survive another day. 

Of course, the road to integration is fraught with challenges. Economic adjustments, new political reforms and social transformations – we must overcome them all. Yet, in these challenges, we see an opportunity for growth. We believe in our collective resilience and our ability to enact all the changes necessary to secure our place within the European Union.

Thank you for standing with Ukraine, for believing in our aspirations to become a part of the EU, and for supporting the pursuit of a future where peace and prosperity prevail for all of us. Please take part in this historic journey. This is our time to rise – together, we can and will forge a path toward a brighter, united future.

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