The world can see for itself what Russia is doing to my country. By now it should be clear to everyone that Ukraine is under constant assault from a brutal enemy who draws no distinction between military and civilian targets. Every day, President Vladimir Putin’s military commanders are committing what I — as a lawyer and a human being — can only describe as war crimes. Millions of Ukrainians — people who have no quarrel with their Russian neighbors — are hungry, cold, huddled in bomb shelters or on the run as hostilities mount. We are living through a humanitarian catastrophe of massive proportions unfolding in real time.
Ukrainians are grateful to the West for rallying to the country’s aid through swift and united action. We appreciate the massive sanctions now being imposed on Russia, and we are deeply grateful to so many nations for sending weaponry and supplies to help the country. But with all due respect, this is not nearly enough to counter the massive firepower Ukraine is facing at this hour.
Ukraine urgently needs protection from Russian bombs. The country’s air defense forces are doing a heroic job of countering Russia’s missile strikes, but they are overmatched. NATO must step up to help prevent further devastation by declaring a no-fly zone over Ukraine. In the past, the West has imposed such zones over Libya, Bosnia and Iraq. Is Ukraine less deserving of its help?
Without such protection, we will not be able to safeguard our critical infrastructure from constant bombardment. Our allies will not be able to deliver the defensive weaponry they are so helpfully providing to our soldiers. They will not be able to deliver food, blankets, medical supplies and other essential goods to those who need them most. The truly inspiring joint effort to help Ukraine will be for naught if supply lines are cut off and our friends are left to try to make their way through the falling bombs to complete their humanitarian missions.
But it is not just the ability to move needed defense and humanitarian aid into the country that is at stake. It is the ability to get people out, safely, amid the assault. There are toddlers in hospitals, newborn babies and their mothers, children across the country now struggling with unimaginable physical and psychological trauma. We need to evacuate as many as possible to avoid further catastrophe. We simply cannot do that without a pause in the bombing, which only NATO, thanks to its air defense systems, can guarantee.
The sanctions imposed by nations around the world are having an impact. The value of the ruble has plummeted, Russians are frantically rushing to take money out of banks, and global markets for Russian goods are drying up. International businesses are cutting their investments in Russia or pulling out of the country.
But these measures, too, fall short of what’s needed at this urgent hour — they don’t stop bombs, and they don’t target all of Putin’s assets in the West. Expand the list of oligarchs targeted, and include their wives, parents, sons, daughters, sisters and brothers, who are frequently nominal owners of luxurious assets. Seize their assets immediately. Revoke their European Union, NATO member states’ and Swiss passports, and send them back to Russia. These people are the financial engines funding the war crimes and state-sponsored terrorism now on display in Ukraine. They must be treated as such.
Impose a full embargo on Russian gas and oil — including the Europeans. Expand the SWIFT sanctions to block the entire Russian banking system. Impose a full ban on Russian transactions through Visa and Mastercard. Delist all Russian securities from global stock exchanges. And have the Financial Action Task Force, the global money-laundering and terrorist-financing watchdog group, blacklist Russia and its partner in these atrocities, Belarus.
All of that is necessary. But what we need most of all is for the West to shelter the airspace above Ukraine. If NATO is not ready to enforce the no-fly zone over Ukraine now, then at least the allies have to provide all the necessary air and missile defense systems the Ukrainian army would need to protect our sky.
Daria Kaleniuk is co-founder and executive director of the Anti-Corruption Action Center in Ukraine.