Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, good afternoon, everyone, and thanks for being along with us today.
We have seen a number of things today and I think what strikes me the most is this: First, we’ve seen the horrific human consequences of the Russian aggression against Ukraine. And it’s so easy to sometimes get lost in abstractions, numbers, how many people lost their lives or were wounded, what the larger effects are.
But it all comes down to the human dimension, to the lives, the stories of men, of women, and children – like the men, women, and children who are imprisoned in the basement of this building next to us, which normally was a school, and are held there for a month, 127 people in a room not even fit for one person for human habitation, children as young as a month old not allowed to come out. And this is just one building in one village in one community in Ukraine and this is a story that we’ve seen again and again and again.
Now what happened here happened at the beginning of the Russian aggression, but the atrocities and the impact it’s having on Ukrainians of all ages continue to this very day. Just yesterday, we saw the bombing of a market – 17 people or more killed, many others injured. A market. For what? This is what Ukrainians are living with every day. This is what is happening here every day. And I ask you to just imagine if this was your schoolhouse, if these were your children. Think about that for a minute.
But we’re also seeing something else that’s incredibly powerful, and that is the extraordinary resilience of the Ukrainian people. The building – rebuilding of this house next to me that was bombed to nothing by the Russians when they invaded. Documenting what happened here in this school to the men, women, and children who were imprisoned here, including those who died suffocating to death downstairs because there was no air. Working together, volunteering to rebuild their communities.
We came, just before we were here, from a place where a remarkable NGO with local volunteers is dealing with all of the unexploded ordnance as well as the mines that are throughout Ukraine. By some estimates, as much as one-third of Ukraine’s territory has to deal with mines or unexploded ordnance – one-third of the entire country. Farmland throughout the country – unexploded ordnance, mines – farmland that was feeding 80 million people around the world. And now because of this Russian aggression, the farmers can’t farm their fields, the food doesn’t get out to people who need it.
But Ukrainians are coming together to get rid of the ordnance, to get rid of the mines, and to rebuild – to literally recover the land that was taken from them. We’re very proud to be partners with Ukraine in all of these efforts, not just in the military effort, to make sure that Ukrainians have what they need to defend against the aggression to take back their territory, but rebuilding, recovery. We’re working on demining and supporting that. We’re working on helping communities recover and rebuild. We’re working on making sure that investment comes to Ukraine so that the economy can recover.
In all of these areas and more, we and so many other countries around the world are standing side by side with Ukraine, and part of the reason for my visit here at President Biden’s behest is just to reaffirm that commitment – the commitment to continue to stand with Ukraine and with Ukrainians as they take on the aggression, as they recover, as they rebuild. This will be the story for some time, but it’s important – important to me that even as we travel around the world and have an opportunity to work with our counterparts, our colleagues and governments, that we get a chance to see firsthand what all of this is really about. And it is about the people, it is about the mothers, it is about the children, it is about the fathers who are the ones who are the victims of what we’ve seen in Ukraine and what we continue to see in far too many places around the world from Africa to the Middle East to our own hemisphere.
We’ve said, many of us, looking at this, hearing the stories, this is the 21st century. This wasn’t supposed to happen again. And not just here, the heart of Europe, but around the world. So we’re committed – the State Department and the United States – to do everything we possibly can to try to prevent conflict, to try to stop it, and to stand with those who are the victims of aggression.