South Africa


Ukraine’s ambassador pained seeing a Russian frigate in South African waters

Ukraine’s ambassador pained seeing a Russian frigate in South African waters
Ukranian Viktoriia Kordiumova protests against the berthing of Russian frigate Admiral Gorshkov in Cape Town harbour on 14 February 2023. (Photo Supplied)

Ukraine’s ambassador to South Africa, Liubov Abravitova, said she felt personally pained that South Africa has been conducting joint naval exercises with the same Russian military that was killing her people.

The Ukrainian ambassador says the “Z” and “V” symbols emblazoned on the funnel of the frigate Admiral Gorshkov are particularly painful.

Abravitova told the Cape Town Press Club on Thursday that her foreign ministry had already expressed its deep concern about Exercise Mosi II, which the South African Defence Force has been conducting with the Russian and Chinese militaries off the KwaZulu-Natal coast.


Ukraine’s ambassador to South Africa, Liubov Abravitova. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

The main message of her ministry was that “we would not want to see any country in the world give the sense of impunity to Russia when they are continuing their collaboration with the country aggressor and violator of international law”.

The main Russian vessel participating in the exercise has been the Admiral Gorshkov frigate – armed with a variety of missiles, including the supposedly unstoppable Zircon hypersonic missile. The frigate has the letters V and Z painted on either side of its funnel; letters which are also painted on all the military vehicles that attacked Ukraine.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Media laugh off request by SANDF commander to put positive spin on Mosi II naval exercise

“Let me tell you as a citizen of Ukraine, to have ships that are carrying the letters V and Z – those letters are drawn on the military ammunition and vehicles of Russia in Ukraine – while they are killing our children and our women and our men… while they are carrying the same kind of missiles with which they are destroying our infrastructure, our cultural and religious heritage… now you are having that in your peaceful waters. 

“I feel pain,” Abravitova said. 


The Ukrainian foreign ministry also said the most cynical aspect of the exercise was that it had been taking place around 24 February, the day a year ago when Russia attacked Ukraine.

Read more in Daily Maverick: US Congress mulls resolution to oppose SA’s naval exercise with Russia and China

South Africa has refused to condemn anything Russia has done in the war against Ukraine to date, and has abstained from five UN General Assembly resolutions condemning Russia’s aggression.

At the press club, Abravitova was asked about reports that Russia had drafted Ukrainian prisoners of war to fight against their own people, in clear violation of the Geneva Conventions. The questioner asked her if Pretoria also refused to condemn this violation by Russia, would that affect relations between Ukraine and South Africa?

“I want to believe there is a red line for silence,” Abravitova replied, adding that Ukraine and South Africa should be speaking about this breach of the Geneva Conventions; about how many Ukrainians had been forced to join the Russian army; how many Ukrainian women and children had been forcibly taken to Russia. These acts amounted to genocide, she said.

“I hope the South African stance will be firm,” she added, but without much conviction.

‘Russian aggression in Ukraine’

Another person asked Abravitova what she expected of the South African government.

She said Ukraine expected South Africa, like the rest of the world, to at least call things as they really were. She was worried that South Africa could not call Russian aggression in Ukraine what it was: “Russian aggression in Ukraine”.

She noted that in South Africa’s explanation for its abstention from the 23 February 2023 resolution of the UN General Assembly condemning Russia, there had been no mention of Russia at all. The explanation of the vote referred simply to the “war in Ukraine”.

Moreover, the UN General Assembly had entitled its resolution: A “just and lasting peace in Ukraine”, but the South African foreign ministry’s explanation of the vote had simply called it the “resolution on war” – and again without mentioning Russia.

“So the least I would want is that we call things after their names and that we are adhering to the norms and rules of the UN Charter.”

She added that Ukraine was not looking for arms from South Africa, but support in the international arena – including from international organisations – to say that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had been a clear violation of the UN Charter and of international law.

Active cooperation

However, Abravitova remained optimistic that when the war finally ended – with Ukraine’s victory – Ukraine and South Africa would once again enjoy active cooperation. 

“Diplomacy is not about burning bridges, even in the most difficult situations,” she said.

The one positive from the war was that by attacking Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin had placed Ukraine firmly on the map, in South Africa and elsewhere in the world, she said. This included reminding South Africa that Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union, had played a big part in the struggle against apartheid.

Putin had also shown South Africa and the world how important Ukraine was to global food security. Abravitova said she was very proud that her country’s farmers, even under missile attack, had planted and harvested grain and managed to export it to the world over the past year.

She noted that at the start of the war, the rest of the world referred to her country as “the Ukraine”, as though it belonged to someone else – like Russia. 

“Now I don’t hear ‘the Ukraine’ any more. There is no article. This makes me confident that now Ukraine is understood to be a sovereign state.”

Visit Daily Maverick’s home page for more news, analysis and investigations

Abravitova was reminded that when she had addressed the Cape Town press club a year ago, just after the start of the war, she had expressed the hope that the conflict could be resolved diplomatically through negotiations.

But now, she said, it had become clear that Russia did not want peace, so the only way Ukraine could retain its freedom and regain all its territory inside its internationally recognised borders – borders also recognised by South Africa – was to push Russia back beyond the borders.

“Ukraine will do all it can to make this the year of victory,” she proclaimed.

Abravitova was also asked if Ukraine was negotiable on Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula which Russia seized in 2014.

She replied that, at the start of the invasion a year ago, Ukraine had offered a plan in which it said it was ready to negotiate the status of Crimea over five to 10 years, on condition Russia withdrew troops from the rest of Ukraine’s territory.

She suggested this plan had been unacceptable to Russia.

Abravitova was also reminded that when she addressed the press club a year ago, she had said she was trying to get an audience with President Ramaphosa because she felt she needed to explain Ukraine’s position to him. Had she finally had that meeting?

“No, I have not. But I am still here, and I am ready and waiting,” she replied. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.


    Liubov Abravitova feels pain for the suffering of her beloved country. I feel ashamed of the government of my beloved South Africa. The ANC government has abandoned its ethical values, and its professed “neutrality” while blatantly hosting Russian war games is a farce. The ANC elite (that relies on medical care in Russia and funding from a uranium mine owned by a Russian oligarch) is so out of touch with reality and with the sympathies of most South Africans. South Africa’s economy is intimately intertwined with that of the west, yet once again the ANC puts its outdated ideological beliefs ahead of the interests of the country.

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