Vladimir Putin’s military assault on the brave and free people of Ukraine is an international crime of historic proportions.
It has been heartening to see the massive protests in countless cities and towns around the world. They demonstrate that Putin has woken up free peoples everywhere to the stakes of his brazen attack on a democratic neighbor, and democracy itself.
Much of the public commentary about Ukraine has appropriately focused on Russia’s ambitions for a Eurasian sphere of influence, if not reconstituted imperium, and their implications on the post-World War II international order.
NDI’s perspective is slightly different. For 30 years, we have focused on the voice and dignity of the Ukrainian people – their own dreams and aspirations for their families, their communities and their beloved country.
We opened our Kyiv office in 1992, immediately after Ukraine declared its independence; and remained through years of national transition, turmoil, backsliding and the Revolution of Dignity in 2014, in which Ukraine decisively committed to a democratic future.
Throughout this time, we witnessed first-hand the Ukrainian people’s fearless struggle to build a democracy out of the ashes of Cold War dictatorship. Our office eventually grew to become our largest globally, with nearly 60 staff – the vast majority Ukrainians – working side-by-side with partners from every corner of the country.
We worked with Ukrainian political parties across the political spectrum; parliamentarians on building a culture of dialogue, debate and service; and local communities to ensure democracy delivered at the grassroots.
We worked alongside women, LGBTQI+ activists and other marginalized communities – from Lviv to Kharkiv – as they sought to make Ukraine a more inclusive society.
We worked in partnership with local NGOs as they fought corruption and monitored Ukraine’s elections.
And we have benefited from the lessons Ukrainians learned and approaches they developed to combat Russian disinformation over the past decade. As Ukraine is confronted with the prospect of a hybrid war at an unprecedented scale, that experience counts more than ever.
In short, NDI has witnessed how Russia has used Ukraine as a testing ground for its attacks on democracy elsewhere – including the United States. As such, NDI has understood that Ukraine is a pivot point in the global struggle for democracy.
As I wrote in my op-ed for The Hill earlier this month, Ukraine is Exhibit A that President Biden was correct in calling the struggle between autocracy and democracy a defining challenge of our time.
Putin’s continuing attempts to undermine democracy worldwide reflects fear, not confidence. He recognizes that if democracy can prevail in a country with which Russia has such historical, cultural and linguistic affinity, it can prevail in Russia itself, at the expense of himself and his cronies.
But NDI’s work in Ukraine has never been about Russia. It has been about the Ukrainian people.
And if there is one thing we have learned over three decades of partnership, it is that the Ukrainian people are proud, tough, resilient and will not be cowed.
NDI’s support and solidarity with Ukraine will not waver, come what may. We will remain steadfast in our commitment to our brave partners as they struggle to defend their rights, their freedoms, their democracy and their very lives from those who would steal it all.
Author: Derek Mitchell is the President of NDI
NDI is a non-profit, non-partisan, non-governmental organization that works in partnership around the world to strengthen and safeguard democratic institutions, processes, norms and values to secure a better quality of life for all. NDI envisions a world where democracy and freedom prevail, with dignity for all.