Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre became the latest government leader to visit Ukraine’s President Volodomyr Zelensky on Friday, and he didn’t arrive empty-handed. In addition to being shown some of the horrors of Russia’s attacks on civilians, Støre met with Zelensky and could tell him that Norway will boost financial aid to Ukraine by NOK 10 billion (USD 1.1 billion) over the next two years.
“We stand together with the Ukrainian people,” Støre declared after arriving in Kyiv late Friday afternoon, just days after major websites and state functions had come under cyber attack by a Russian hacker group responding to Norway’s strong support for the expansion of NATO.
“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has created the biggest crisis in Europe since the second World War,” stated Støre, a former top diplomat and foreign minister who had good relations with Russia for many years. A vast majority of Norwegians now feel that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attacks on Ukraine and challenge to its sovereignty have changed everything. Newspaper Dagsavisen editorialized during the weekend that it also ended a long period of peace among the world’s most powerful nations.
Støre and most of his NATO allies believe that Putin’s war also threatens security in all of Europe. Helping Ukraine fend off the Russian attacks and, not least, rebuild homes, schools and other important infrastructure damaged or destroyed by Russian bombing will help more than just Ukraine.
“They’re fighting for their nation, but also for our democratic values,” Støre said. “We’re contributing to the Ukrainians’ fight for freedeom.” The money will be used for humanitarian aid, rebuilding projects, weapons and operating support for Ukrainina authorities.
Støre was shown some of what he called the “dramatic consequences” of Russia’s attacks since its invasion on February 24, bluntly stating that what he witnessed was nothing short of “a hell, really.” While Norwegian and other officials were taken to suburbs outside Kyiv including Bucha, where dead bodies were left lying in the streets, newspaper Aftenposten noted how Støre’s first stop in Ukraine was the city of Tsjernihiv, around a three-hour drive north of Kyiv and close to the Belarus border. While Russian soldiers tried unsuccessfully to conquer Ukraine’s capital, Tsjernihiv was under attack, too.
More than 300 residents of one of its outlying villages, Yahidne, were forced into the cellar of a local school and held captive there for nearly a month. They included infants and elderly, and conditions were so terrible that 10 people died. “It’s heartbreaking,” said Støre afterwards while meeting survivors. “What happened here amounted to gruesome treatment of people,” he told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). He said it was important to see the venues of such atrocities first-hand, and hold Russia accountable.
Many now think Putin will carry on his war for a long time, with NRK’s foreign editor Sigurd Falkenberg-Mikkelsen viewing the major increase in Norway’s support for Ukraine as a sign “that we’ll help out for the long haul.”
Støre received a warm welcome back in Kyiv, where Zelensky said he was grateful and called Norway “a real friend.” He’s been disappointed that some come countries have promised aid but haven’t followed through, either with humanitarian support or weapons. Støre, whose visit had been kept under wraps for security reasons, stressed how important it is “to keep our eyes on Ukraine” also as the war drags on.
While Norway has been criticized for not taking the best care of Ukrainian refugees in Norway, where some have lately had to turn to charitable programs to acquire enough food, Støre’s government has firm plans for use of the money being donated to Ukraine. A major portion will go towards weapons, with Norway and Great Britain already teaming up on donations of heavy artillery. In addition to helping rebuild bombed-out schools, hospitals and housing, Norway wants to also help keep export routes open for Ukrainian grain and agricultural products that have produced food for as many as 400 million people around the world. Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt stressed the importance of keeping the aid resources “flexible” in order to best address needs.
Both Huitfeldt and the president of Norway’s Parliamant have visited Ukraine and Zelensky earlier. This was Støre’s first trip and it clearly made an impression. “We can read about and see (what’s been happening in Ukraine) but it’s very important to meet the people,” Støre told NRK, which was able to join his trip. “This is happening in the middle of Europe in 2022, and no other country can ignore that. Lives have been destroyed, we’ve seen (destroyed) places that had absolutely no military value. Homes have been plundered. This tells the story of a type of warfare for which Russia must take responsibility. It’s important that this is seen and noted so that there one day can be reparations for it.”