Ukrainian people win European parliament’s Sakharov prize

The European parliament has awarded the people of Ukraine its annual Sakharov prize for freedom of thought to honour their fight against Russia’s invasion.

“They are standing up for what they believe in. Fighting for our values. Protecting democracy, freedom and rule of law. Risking their lives for us,” the European parliament president, Roberta Metsola, said when she announced the winner.

“There is no one more deserving of this prize,” she said.

The award comes with prize money of €50,000 (£43,560), which will be distributed to representatives of Ukrainian civil society.

The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, expressed gratitude for the EU’s support, writing on Twitter that “Ukrainians prove dedication to the values of freedom, democracy every day on the battlefield”.

When they nominated Ukraine for the prize, MEPs praised Zelenskiy for his “bravery, endurance and devotion to his people” and highlighted the roles of Ukraine’s state emergency services.

Among others, they also cited Yuliia Paievska, the founder of the medical evacuation unit Angels of Taira, human rights activist Oleksandra Matviichuk, the Yellow Ribbon civil resistance movement and Ivan Fedorov, the mayor of the occupied city of Melitopol.

The prize, named after the late Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, has been awarded annually since 1988 to individuals and organisations defending human rights and fundamental freedoms.

“Now Ukraine is in the centre of the world’s attention. Ukraine deserves this prize,” Tetiana Trofymchuk, a 26-year-old musician, told Reuters in Kyiv, because it sets an example of what a democratic society should be, she said.

“[The prize] seems and sounds to me rather superficial, but it is nice of them to give it to us. It is yet another reason to speak about Ukraine and its achievements. Great,” said Svitlana, a 36-year-old businesswoman who declined to give her last name.

The award marked the second time in as many years that EU lawmakers used the Sakharov prize to send a message to the Kremlin. Imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny won it last year.

Other past winners include the former South African president Nelson Mandela, Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai and the democratic opposition of Belarus.

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