Energy, optimism and moral seriousness are not qualities found at every event at the Conservative Party Conference, but all were in evidence at the ConHome/AECOM fringe on rebuilding Ukraine.
Alicia Kearns, MP for Rutland & Melton and Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee (pictured above with Eduard Fesko, Acting Ambassador of Ukraine), said that at the end of the war – which she does not expect for “another one to three years” – Ukraine will have the best armed forces in Europe, but now it needs to develop its own defence industry, for it is naturally worried that the United States “is going to pull out”.
Is Kearns worried about that? She replied that Joe Biden had been “very clear”, and had just agreed another package of support, but “I am nervous about the future of the US”.
She added that the outcome of the Slovakian elections “should worry us all”, but said that in Ukraine “this is a chance to make a stand for the next 50 years”.
In Kearns’ view, “we are not doing enough to deter” in Kosovo, or indeed in Taiwan. She observed that “a traumatised society” cannot rebuild unless it can deal with its trauma, is “helped to tackle the stigma of rape” and the “kidnapping of tens of thousands of Ukrainian children”.
She remarked on “how many people have lost their limbs”, and need not only prosthetic replacements but “psychological support too”
Fesko said that “for the Ukrainian Government the first, second and third concern is to have sufficient resources to fight the war”. He pointed out that Donald Trump, when President, had approved the supply of Javelins to Ukraine, which “at the time was deemed extremely dangerous”.
He agreed that “the war is not going to be over tomorrow”, which means “Ukraine needs to be self-reliant”, for “a lot of precious time has been lost in weapons deliveries”.
Twenty thousand kilometres of roads have been destroyed in Ukraine, and over 100,000 square kilometres of agricultural land, an area larger than Wales, has been contaminated with mines and taken out of use, but the vast size of the reconstruction effort that will be needed in no way daunted Fesco or the other speakers.
He pointed out that the UK “is one of the biggest consumers of Ukrainian IT expertise”, and looked forward to a day when “we make sure Ukraine is part of the West”.
Nusrat Ghani, MP for Wealden and Minister of State for Industry and Economic Security, said over 500 UK firms are already working in Ukraine, where there is “a huge amount of enthusiasm for British business”, for “they have felt we have been with them throughout the whole conflict”.
Jim Bowden, formerly a Brigadier in the Royal Engineers and now an Executive Director with AECOM, emphasised the need to act now rather than waiting for the fighting to stop: “getting ready in anticipation of something is so much more effective”.
He added that to attract investment into Ukraine “we do need good and effective governance”, the use of UK standards to shape competition and design.
Oleksii Goncharenko, a Ukrainian MP, speaking with admirable force and brevity from Odessa in front of a hotel destroyed a few days ago by the Russians, urged Britain, with “one of the strongest navies in the world”, and as “the insurance hub of the world”, to help open the Black Sea for Ukrainian grain exports.
There was altogether a sense at this meeting that the horrors of war are prompting vast and confident exertions by the Ukrainians themselves, with the support of their allies, to emerge greatly strengthened from their ordeal.