The Ukraine Recovery Conference
I was honoured to share some words at the Ukraine Recovery Conference, an event dedicated to supporting Ukraine during the ongoing Russian aggression against Ukraine. This year’s event is focused on mobilising international support for Ukraine's economic and social stabilisation and recovery from the effects of war. I wanted to share my speech here too:
Nearly 16 months ago, Russian troops launched a brutal invasion that has brought terror, bloodshed and anguish to Ukraine and its people.
Russia’s actions are not only a vicious assault on a sovereign nation determined to choose its own path. They are also an attack on to the international rule-based order that has underpinned so much of humanity’s progress since the end of World War II.
I have early on lent my voice to Ukraine’s fight for sovereignty and self-determination. I have done so because their struggle is ours, too. The alternative to a free and democratic Ukraine is an increasingly illiberal and insular world. A world without justice, equality, or the rule of law. A world devoid of common decency and humanity. I’m sure you agree that it’s the very antithesis to a world any of us would want to live in.
In the last 12 months, I had the privilege of visiting Ukraine twice, meeting not only President Zelensky, but also countless brave Ukrainians. Many shared harrowing and moving stories of devastation, suffering and loss. And yet, I’ve also learned so much about Ukrainians’ courage and resilience – and the unbreakable spirit at the heart of their fight for survival.
I have more hope than ever that this fight can and will be won. We’ll have to see what the coming weeks and months hold, but the continued support of Ukraine’s allies has been making a difference and I hope this support will remain unwavering until the last Russian troops leave Ukraine’s sovereign territory – from Donbass to Crimea.
Today, I thank all of you who have come to London to discuss what Ukraine’s recovery might look like. But more importantly, 44 million Ukrainians – a quarter of them now refugees or internally displaced – look to this conference in anticipation. Their hopes and aspirations are really not different from those most of us hold dear: to live in peace and free from repression; to see their families, friends and communities flourish; to find opportunity, perhaps even to start a business. That’s the humanity behind every figure and every statistic. And we must never forget that this is why we are here.
Business will be central to this effort. To begin, we must continue to speak up for Ukraine and against the aggressor. I am encouraged that so many business leaders have stepped forward and done that. I felt deeply honoured when President Zelensky’s asked me to serve as an ambassador to his initiative, United24, and will do what I can to be a voice for Ukraine and its amazing people.
Sadly, there is an unacceptably large number of businesses that continue to do business in and with Russia, contributing significantly to Putin’s war chest. Sanctions must be tightened, loopholes closed, and violations punished. I really hope that governments will find answers to these challenges. There will be no recovery without peace. And for Ukraine to win the peace, business must not stand in the way.
Many of us supporting Ukraine welcome the UK Government’s initiative to launch a Business Compact for Ukraine. And I am proud that the Virgin Group is among the first companies to sign on. Ukraine needs a sustained, collective commitment across all sectors to help rebuild its infrastructure and its battered towns, and to bring its economy back on its feet.
The World Bank estimates that Ukraine’s recovery will require at least $400 billion over the next 10 years. Some may call this cost of fixing things. I’d like to think of it as a smart investment in Ukraine’s future that will power innovation and green growth, led by the skill, talent, and determination of Ukraine’s entrepreneurial class. Many of us stand ready to do their part, and I urge you all to do yours and create the enabling environment so that Ukraine can build back better. A thriving, prosperous Ukraine is our best hope for peace and stability in the region and beyond. And your support and your commitments will make all the difference.