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Davos: 6 leaders share their insights on Russia’s war in Ukraine

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Leaders speaking about Ukraine at the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting 2023 in Davos.

Leaders speaking about Ukraine at the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting 2023 in Davos. Image: World Economic Forum.

Amy White
Writer, Forum Agenda
Kateryna Gordiychuk
Video Producer, World Economic Forum
This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

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  • The war in Ukraine has wider repercussions for a fragmented world in crisis.
  • This year's Annual Meeting in Davos focused on the critical need for cooperation.
  • Six leaders describe the situation in Ukraine and the human cost of war.

It’s almost one year since Russian forces invaded Ukraine on 24 February 2022. Since that time nearly 8 million Ukranians have fled across Europe, causing the largest refugee crisis since World War II. Tens of thousands of civilians and military personnel have been killed or injured in the conflict.

The global impact of the war in Ukraine is intrinsically connected to heightened geoeconomic fragmentation. Stalling economic growth and rising inflation have created a cost of living crisis, with rising food and energy prices. Geopolitical tensions and interconnected risks, such as the climate crisis and COVID-19, have pushed the world to a critical inflection point.

Speaking on Radio Davos, Gabrielius Landsbergis, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania, highlighted the impact of the war on a fractured world, “It touches every region in the world. It touches every country one way or another.”

It's clear that building a unified front against Russian aggression and restoring unity requires a global solution.

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Unity for Ukraine

In the spirit of this year’s theme Cooperation in a Fragmented World, at the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting in Davos, global leaders from the public and private sector came together to show their support for Ukraine. There was clear recognition that the Ukraine crisis is linked to the many challenges facing the world today, including the threat to democracy itself.

“We are facing a threat of the collapse of a world as we know it, the way that we are accustomed to it and to what we aspire.” In an urgent address, the First Lady of Ukraine, Olena Zelenska, stressed the scale of the challenge ahead and the need for solidarity so the world can unite in peace.

Olena Zelenska, First Lady of Ukraine speaking at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2023 in Davos.
Olena Zelenska, First Lady of Ukraine speaking at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2023 in Davos. Image: World Economic Forum/ Greg Beadl.

As this year’s Davos draws to a close, we reflect on the experiences and views of leaders directly affected by the human impact of the war in Ukraine. Their words reveal the stark reality of life on the ground for those suffering and remind us of the need for action, not words.

These six leaders, speaking at Davos, share their insights:

Vitali Klitschko, Mayor of Kyiv, Ukraine

"Today is 11 months of the war and we calculated, we [heard] just in our hometown 645 times the alarm, the bombing alarm. It means everyone, every citizen has to go to the shelter. If we put all the times together, it's every citizen in our hometown spent one month in bunkers underground, one month of their lives.

I'm more than sure we win this senseless war and kick out the Russian soldiers from our territory from Ukraine. But the question how long [will it take]? It's a question for our partners, and that's why we [attended] a lot of meetings, that’s why we’re talking about [the fact that] we need modern weapons and the unity around Ukraine.

It’s the biggest mistake to think this war doesn’t touch you personally. This war can touch everyone, not just in Europe, everyone in the world. Please don't forget, Ukraine has five nuclear plants. One of them just a couple of weeks ago, was on fire.”

Maxim Timchenko, CEO, DTEK

“From October this year, Putin changed his energy war to the physical destruction of our power stations, our grid, all our facilities.

About 80% of our population experiences blackouts. So it means that people stay without electricity for six, 10 hours every day.

I learned how brave and creative our people working for DTEK are … When they come to work, power stations or substations, they understand that these objects are targets of potential missile attacks. And our people still come to work and do everything possible that we keep operations off of these facilities.”

Roman Smolynets, Doctor in Lviv, Ukraine

"I work predominantly in the intensive care unit and urgent anaesthesia department.

I see an incredible amount of individual trauma every day. It's about parents' tears. It's about losing a person and it's about the heroism of ordinary people.”

Oleksandra Matviichuk, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate 2022 and Head, Center for Civil Liberties

“I have been working in the field of human rights protection for twenty years and we have been documenting war crimes for eight years. But, to be honest, I wasn't ready for the amount of cruelty we've encountered. And it seems to me that nobody can be ready for this.

There are many illusions that there is a notion of ‘peace’, especially when the people discussing it over a cup of coffee are from safe, European capitals. Peace does not come when the attacked country lays down its arms. That won’t be peace, it will be occupation. When we talk about sustainable peace, and not about deferred military threats under the guise of political compromises, we mean that sustainable peace cannot occur without justice.

In reality, freedom is not a given. We make choices every day. And the values of modern civilization must be protected.

Human rights are like oxygen. When everything is fine with human rights, we don’t about how we inhale the air, how the complex biochemical reactions take place and how we exhale carbon dioxide. We do this automatically. The same happens when everything is fine in society with the protection of human rights, or when it does not affect people personally.”

José Andrés, Chef and Founder, World Central Kitchen

“Within weeks, we were in every single entry and exit point from Ukraine to the receiving countries that can get Ukrainians inside Ukraine and on the other side. But at the same time, we realised that as refugees were leaving Ukraine, we had a lot people, displaced people within Ukraine and the cities. They needed an organisation that could help them very quickly to provide home meals. Very quickly we put 550 restaurants at work because who better than restaurants to feed people in need?

Ukraine’s production of grain feeds over 400 million people every year. What Ukraine is doing actually is defending the right to food to millions of people in Africa and other countries that without that grain from Ukraine, they will go hungry. So every country in the world must support Ukraine because in the process we are supporting people around the world.”

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Belarus opposition leader

It's the war between democracy and autocracy. And every democratic country should do everything possible to support those brave people who are fighting at the moment.”

Related topics:
Forum InstitutionalGlobal Cooperation
Unity for UkraineVitali Klitschko, Mayor of Kyiv, UkraineMaxim Timchenko, CEO, DTEKRoman Smolynets, Doctor in Lviv, UkraineOleksandra Matviichuk, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate 2022 and Head, Center for Civil LibertiesJosé Andrés, Chef and Founder, World Central KitchenSviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Belarus opposition leader

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