The Ukrainian issue in Brazil has become much more relevant with the change of government in the country and the inauguration of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
In response to an appeal by the Ukrainian World Congress (UWC) and the Ukrainian-Brazilian Central Representation (UBCR), President Lula da Silva, for the first time since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, clearly condemned Russia’s genocidal aggression and occupation of Ukrainian territories. Brazil also showed consistency by supporting a resolution based on President Zelensky’s peace plan during the UN General Assembly vote on February 23, 2023.
Recently, UBCR President Vitório Sorotiuk and Ukrainian missionary to Brazil Vitalii Arshulik spoke to the leading Brazilian publication UOL about the war in Ukraine and the life of Ukrainian refugees in Brazil. In the interview, the head of the UBCR called on the Brazilian authorities to provide weapons to Ukraine.
Below is a translation of the UOL article in English:
Brazil’s Ukrainian community leader suggests Lula government send weapons to Ukraine
Brazil, hosting the largest Ukrainian community in Latin America, has taken in about 300 refugees since the war broke out in Ukraine a year ago. Brazil’s Ukrainians admire President Lula da Silva’s pro-Ukrainian position but suggest greater involvement from Brazil in the conflict.
“If the United Nations determines that this aggression is condemnable as it has been, it is lawful for you to send weapons for the use in defense of this people. Brazil cannot declare itself neutral.”
Vitório Sorotiuk, President of the Ukrainian-Brazilian Central Representation.
The war in Ukraine caused Europe’s most considerable population displacement since World War II. After the Russian invasion, nearly eight million Ukrainians fled the country. The vast majority of them took refuge in European countries.
Shortly after the start of the war, the Brazilian government decreed an ordinance granting temporary humanitarian visas to Ukrainian refugees, facilitating their entry into the country. The ordinance expires in March.
The president of the Ukrainian-Brazilian Central Representation, Vitório Sorotiuk, has already spoken with the head of the Ministry of Justice about the need to extend the ordinance. “We must always be prepared because the war is persisting,” emphasizes Sorotiuk.
Approximately 300 Ukrainian refugees arrived in Brazil between March and April 2022. As in other countries, the group mainly comprises women and children since men cannot leave Ukrainian territory during the wartime. An association of evangelical churches covered travel and installation costs without government involvement. The First Baptist Church of Curitiba was one of the most active.
“Each church that welcomed a group of people will take care of it, pay rent, water, electricity, internet, food, clothes, everything that is needed for a year”, explains missionary Vitaliy Arshulik, a Ukrainian living in Brazil, who welcomed several compatriots.
The refugees were welcomed in São Paulo and mainly in Paraná, a stronghold of the historic Ukrainian community in Brazil, which partially facilitated the adaptation. Vitaliy Arshulik accompanies 27 people who settled in Prudentópolis, Brazil’s most prominent Ukrainian colony, called “Little Ukraine.”
“The city is tiny. You can find people over 40 or 50 who still speak a little Ukrainian. It helped. But here everything is different, the culture, the climate… It’s challenging because of the language and the longing for their families”, reports the missionary. He informs that two husbands of refugees in Prudentópolis were wounded on the battlefield. “When you are very far from your country, 13,000 kilometers away, you don’t know if you will ever find your husband again.”
Evangelical churches might be ending their reception program in Brazil soon. Refugees were told they had to “decide whether they want to stay or go back”. Of the initial group, 50 have already returned to Europe. The others dream, for the most part, of being able to return home as soon as the conflict is over.
So far, only one refugee who was in Prudentópolis has returned because she needed to undergo heart treatment, but most want to return, and “only two, who no longer have family in Ukraine,” intend to stay in Brazil. The missionary has been based in Brazil for five years and says that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine caused “great sadness”.
He recalls that the current conflict differs from the one that started in 2014 in eastern Ukraine. According to him, “they [Russians] have started killing innocent people who have nothing to do with the war, children, women, and men who are not soldiers. There is no limit to what they have done”.
In addition to the little luggage, the refugees also carried memories and stories of the atrocities committed by the Russian military, such as “the castration of 200 Ukrainian soldiers taken prisoner” or “that of a five-year-old child tied to the body of his dead mother along with a grenade that exploded when neighbors went to try to save her”.
“And there are still countries that think that Russia is doing good things, that Putin is good. People are deceived and don’t understand that the Russians invaded and want to kill all Ukrainians.”
However, the missionary did not think about returning to Ukraine, where his brother and other members of his family are, to enlist and defend the country. “I have another responsibility (to) help the Ukrainian (refugees). Each one has his place, but when we are working together and going towards victory”, he says.
Vitório Sorotiuk indicates that the crime of “invasion” by Russia is already well characterized and that crimes of “war, against humanity and even genocide” are being highlighted.
Parallel between the invasion of Ukraine and the attack on the Three Powers Square
The entity, representing the 600,000 Ukrainians in Brazil, sent a letter congratulating President Lula da Silva on his inauguration. The text draws a parallel between the invasion of Ukraine by Russia and the attacks on Praça dos Três Poderes in Brasília.
“The parallel is that of disrespect for the law. Russia disrespects international norms, established in the second article of the Charter of the United Nations, with the invasion of Ukraine, just as it is disrespectful to the population to invade the seat of the Three Powers in Brazil”, compares Sorotiuk.
The text also asks that the Lula da Silva government increase humanitarian aid to the country, which “the past government only gave once,” and provide all political and diplomatic support to Ukraine.
The organization wants to speak with the new government to “give the community the point of view regarding Brazil’s behavior in this international relationship”. Sorotiuk considers positive “President Lula da Silva’s more proactive position about the search for peace.
But, recalling that Brazil “has some disagreements in the sense of not sending weapons to Ukraine”, as the United States and France did, for example, he questions: “If the United Nations determines that this aggression is condemnable as it once was, is it legal you send weapons for use in defense of this people. Brazil cannot remain neutral.”