Ukraine’s Ambassador to India Oleksandr D. Shevchenko has been mandated to allow as many foreigners as possible to travel to Ukraine and see for themselves the tragedy of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 crash.
Hoping for a more nuanced Indian stand on the crisis unfolding in rebel-held eastern Ukraine, he took six questions from Headlines Today.
Headlines Today: Russia has alleged that one of your fighter planes was in the area, indicating that that aircraft may have something to do with the downing of MH17.
Shevchenko: This is usual Russian tactic of trying to distort the facts and divert international attention from ground reality. Actually on the day of this tragedy, there was simply no activity of either the Ukrainian Air Force or even the army towards what we describe as anti-terrorist operations in the eastern end of our country.
Headlines Today: India abstained from supporting the UN resolution on Crimea earlier this year. Have you interacted with the Indian government after the MH17 tragedy? What role does the Ukrainian nation wants India to take?
Shevchenko: We are aware of India’s position on this issue. However, we expect from India a very explicit position on Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. What Russia has done with Ukraine is unacceptable. The new Indian government should look thoroughly into this issue and take an appropriate position.
Headlines Today: Given the traditional warmth in India-Russia ties, what you have seen till now as India’s reaction? Has it disappointed you?
Shevchenko: Our message to the Indian government has been delivered and we believe it will take our position into the decision-making process. We are aware of the ties that India and Russia share.
However, we also believe that India can look into this crisis in our country which has been sponsored by its best friend, I would say, and recognise it as an awakening call. India should not see things from the point of view that Russia has any legitimate interest in Ukraine.
Headlines Today: Heavy fighting has been reported in Donetsk and Lugansk from the start of this week. Will it not impede the investigation? Why has there been no call for a ceasefire from your side?
Shevchenko: It could impede, I agree. Our newly elected President had announced a ceasefire immediately on taking office. We hoped the other side too would abide by it. But it didn’t. A lot of our military personnel were killed by them (the rebels) in that very period leaving us with no choice but to continue with our anti-terrorist operations.
Headlines Today: Are you contemplating announcing a ceasefire in the wake of plane crash?
Shevchenko: Every option is on the table, including announcing a ceasefire. But it is all meaningless till the other side also abides by it.
Headlines Today: Given that many of your aircrafts were shot by rebels over your airspace, do you not think the tragedy would have been averted had the Ukrainian government advised caution or disallowed flying over that region?
Shevchenko: What happened was an act of terror, let us understand that. When our aircraft were being downed, we did not expect that the terrorists would posses such sophisticated weapons to bring down a civilian flight at 33,000 feet. ICAO has declared the area as a temporary ‘no fly zone’ now. However, this is a wake-up call.