Ukraine’s ambassador to the EU, Vsevolod Chentsov, laughs gently when asked if he gets much sleep. Ukraine’s diplomatic mission in Brussels has become a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week operation since Moscow launched its full-scale war of aggression. “I’m not complaining. In Ukraine it is clearly more difficult than here,” he says on a day after more Russian cruise missiles struck critical infrastructure across the country. More than 14 million Ukrainians have been forced to flee their homes since the war started, according to the United Nations. “In Belgium we are not under daily bombardment, so we have a responsibility to do whatever we can.”

That also means doing things much faster than before, pushing at all doors and working as closely as possible with the EU and international organisations to keep communication flowing with European allies. “We can deliver any message we have to on time, and provide a response back to Kyiv,” Ambassador Chentsov says. “We are doing our best to get our message through.”

Despite international condemnation of Russia’s war and the outpouring of support for Ukraine – flowers are regularly left outside the mission’s building in Brussels - nothing can be taken for granted. “It’s very important to maintain that good level of cooperation and that people understand what the Russians are really doing in Ukraine,” he says, recalling several visits he has undertaken with European politicians and officials to Kyiv. “Winter is coming, and Russia has begun this new phase of targeted bombardment of Ukrainian cities, of our electricity infrastructure.”

Still, Member States’ decision in June to grant official EU candidate status to Ukraine has been a big morale boost, asserts Ambassador Chentsov, a former envoy to the Netherlands and who also held senior diplomatic posts in Turkey and Poland. “EU membership is a uniting element for our political class, for the government, for the whole society,” he says. “We are fighting to defend our country but there is also a clear idea about the future of Ukraine after this war.”

Closer military cooperation between the EU and Ukraine is already bringing Kyiv closer. While Ukraine must enact judicial, economic and other reforms to be able to proceed to negotiations towards full EU membership, training is underway by Member States and is set to accelerate under a new EU programme agreed by EU foreign ministers in October. The EU Military Assistance Mission for Ukraine (EUMAM Ukraine) aims to train large numbers of Ukrainian armed forces personnel in a variety of military functions such as basic individual, collective and specialist training, going beyond the current approach that focuses on allowing Ukrainian soldiers to use specific weapon systems.


Ambassador Chentsov believes the EU and Ukraine can go much further. Training could include a kind of cross-fertilisation, in which Ukrainian forces can share their war experience with European troops, an idea that the ambassador has already suggested. There are also discussions about trying to respond as closely as possible to Ukraine’s needs, be it in basic military training, collective training of battalion-level units and training of a brigade HQ, medical personnel, combat engineers, Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear (CBRN)’, communication and cyber security training, or other, classified, areas. More European weapons could be tested in Ukraine, or Ukrainian designs and adaptations considered for future weapons’ production. “When we win this war, there will be many more areas of defence cooperation with the EU,” Ambassador Chentsov says. That hints at the realities of the present. While EDA and Ukraine cooperate through the Administrative Agreement in areas such as standardisation and European air transport, the urgency is on overcoming Russian forces.

Ambassador Chentsov praises the work of the European Peace Facility (see EDM page 20) and the €3.1 billion of Member States’ contributions so far. There is also the €9 billion of Macro Financial Assistance (MFA) that the EU is providing to Ukraine this year. Ukraine hopes all this amount will be disbursed this year and that the EU can provide €18 billion in MFA funding in 2023, not including humanitarian aid or direct budget support, to keep Ukraine’s economy afloat and maintain its defence industrial base.

But he feels there is a need to fine-tune further support under the EPF, with a focus on accelerating reimbursements so that Member States can keep arms and ammunition flowing to Ukraine. “During the first months of the war, EU Member States were sending what they had in their depots, mostly Soviet-type equipment. But now they have depleted their stocks and they have to produce in order to continue supplying Ukraine. So, if we are talking about the EPF, it is a fund that needs to be filled with actual money, rather than commitments to pay,” Ambassador Chentsov says. “Nobody expected this situation, but there is a need to adjust this instrument.”

Just as few expected a full-blown war in Europe, talk of how the conflict might end seems premature as heavy fighting continues in the eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk and Russia targets Ukrainian infrastructure. But Ambassador Chentsov is clear: “Any war ends with a settlement. But that settlement is not Ukraine’s surrender.” For Kyiv, its territorial integrity refers to its 1991 borders, including the peninsula of Crimea that Russia seized in 2014. The best solution, he says, is for Russian forces to withdraw from Ukraine, the Russian leadership to face justice and for Moscow to pay damages.

The broader problem, he states, is that there can be no negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin or someone in his mould. “If the nature of the regime does not change, Russia cannot change. It cannot be a prosperous, democratic country. It can only remain a threat to the world,” he says.

And with those thoughts, the ambassador’s mobile phone lights up, ringing beside him, and he is called back to his office, as his 24/7 diplomatic operation continues.