Back Opening of photo exhibition "The DAWN" by French-Ukrainian photographer Yury Bilak

As delivered by Bjørn Berge, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe


President of the Ministers Deputies, dear Domenik,

Ambassador of Ukraine, dear Borys,

Ambassador of France, dear Pap,

Dear Mr Bilak,

Dear Roman,


Ladies and gentlemen,


The war of aggression against Ukraine has caused terrible suffering for the Ukrainian people.

Among them, we think of the soldiers on the front line –

Many of whom have been injured or killed –

As well as the millions of Ukrainian refugees and internally displaced –

And the millions of civilians in Ukraine facing continuous drone and missile attacks, terrorising people.

But for all of them – their resistance and bravery is extraordinary – they fight for their country – for Ukraine’s independence and sovereignty – and Ukrainian’s future.

At the same time – it is a fight to preserve our rules‑based international order, standing firmly against Russian imperialism, and violent and aggressive nationalism.

But dear friends,

I believe that for many of us, it is the suffering of Ukraine’s children that is most harrowing.

Hundreds of children have been killed –

Well over a thousand injured –

And at the same time, tens of thousands of Ukrainian children have been abducted and sent to Russia, Belarus or to Ukrainian territories under Russian occupation.

And it is important that we never forget that behind all of these statistics are individual children –

Whose lives have been destroyed ‒ and even taken ‒ as a direct result of Russia’s appalling crimes.

Through this exhibition we meet a few of these children –

And the images are striking.

There is a stark contrast between many of the backdrops –

Burnt-out tanks, bullet-ridden cars, and shattered buildings –

And the children who stand among them –

For these children are dressed in everyday clothes, sports kits, ballet outfits.

To me, this reminds us of the lives that these children should be living –

Being at school, playing with friends, spending time with their families.

Thinking about the future.

The international community – all of us – must do everything we can to support Ukraine, and we must have the will and stamina to do so for as long as it takes.

We can be proud of what the Council of Europe has done so far:

Our joint Action Plan for Resilience, Recovery and Reconstruction is the platform for our close project co-operation in a number of important areas.

And our decision to set up a new Register of Damage, will no doubt be crucial.

Because there cannot be any sustainable peace without justice.

But we now need to see how this important Register of Damage can be followed up by a comprehensive compensation mechanism.

This is the next step we need to take together with Ukraine and other international partners.

Also, the ongoing discussion on setting up a special tribunal on the crime of aggression – the crime of all crimes – is important.

I am also glad that we have, together with Ukraine, done concrete things to focus on and help Ukrainian children.

Not only with regard to our work assisting member states hosting Ukrainian refugees, so as to ensure that they can meet the physical and psychological needs of the many children who have left –

But also, by establishing a Consultation Group on the Children of Ukraine.

I also very much welcome the new international coalition on abducted Ukrainian children,
co-chaired by Canada and Ukraine, as one of the 10 points in President Zelenskyy’s Peace Plan.

So, dear friends,

This exhibition is a further reminder of what is at stake –

The future of Ukraine.

But also the future of Europe.

As well as the future of a rule-based international order.

At the same time we must see to it that Ukrainian children will have the chance to grow up in a free, democratic, and vibrant Ukraine.

So, thank you so much, Mr Bilak, for your very fine work –

And for sharing it with us –

And also for joining us today.

I also thank the Amicale – Denis, Olga, Roman and others – for organising this event.

We will all stand with Ukraine, shoulder-to-shoulder as long as it takes.


Thank you for your attention.


Strasbourg 19 February 2024
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