«We have the same values»: Interview with Danish ambassador in Ukraine Ole Egberg Mikkelsen


In mid-April, we managed to meet with Ole Egberg Mikkelsen, the Danish ambassador to Ukraine. Denmark is a reliable ally of Ukraine. Total defense and humanitarian assistance are approaching €1 billion.

Ole Egberg Mikkelsen, the Danish ambassador to Ukraine

We talked about the restoration of critical infrastructure in the Mykolaiv region, touched on the topics of security and European integration, and also highlighted the responsibility of journalists in the war in the context of the fight against massive Russian fakes.

Danish participation in the reconstruction of Mykolaiv: from emergency response to economic recovery

Q: Sir Ambassador Ole Mikkelsen, thank you for your time. You were recently in Mykolaiv. Please tell us in more detail about the humanitarian project that the Danish government is implementing in Mykolaiv and its region.

A: I guess the most basic question is what is the ambassador of Denmark doing in Mykolaiv? A little more than one year ago, on 29th of March 2022, President Zelensky spoke to the Danish parliament and urged Denmark to assume special responsibility for the recovery and reconstruction of Mykolaiv. And when he added the phrase “the city of shipbuilders”, I knew exactly why he said that because we have been working with the maritime sector in Mykolaiv prior to the war. Now, the Danish prime minister came to Kyiv approximately one month later, and he said to the president [of Ukraine], you have asked us to assume patronage for the rebuilding of Mykolaiv. We’re going to do it. We don’t know how to do it. We’ll find out.

Visit of the Ambassador of Denmark Ole Egberg Mikkelsen to Mykolaiv, CEO of Mykolaiv Vodokanal cummunal enterprise Borys Dudenko

The first thing we did together with the local authorities was to get the city ready for the winter: to buy plywood and particle board for windows. Several hundred tons of plywood were purchased and distributed through a humanitarian organisation in the municipality. As Russians had attacked the main water pipeline and cut off basically the water supply from neighboring Kherson region, there was no drinking water. Denmark was involved in establishing emergency water stations. We were also involved in emergency repairs of the heating system because this was also a problem that the district heating system, the central heating system, supplying the city was also severely damaged. So, the first phase, the emergency response phase, was quite successful.

Water purification stations in Mykolaiv were sponsored by the Danish government

And now we have the second phase. We had a visit by the Danish prime minister, accompanied by the foreign minister and the defence minister. We also had our minister for development cooperation and global climate policy. They were in Mykolaiv in January 2023, and that marked a new phase in the partnership because now we need to support the city in getting economic life back. And this is a very strong wish from both the mayor and the governor and the regional council.

Meeting of the Ambassador of Denmark Ole Egberg Mikkelsen with the mayor of Mykolaiv Oleksandr Sienkevych

And the mayor [of Mykolaiv]said: “Look, it’s very simple. I want my city to become a small Denmark on the Black Sea, just as affluent, just as green, just as innovative, and just as free of corruption as Denmark”. So, this is the vision, and we want to help the local authorities achieve that. And we know that that’s it’s going to be a long, long journey, but we are prepared for that journey.

Danes agree: we need to assist now, and as long as it takes

And I think it’s a very important signal to send to Ukrainians that we’re not going to wait until there is victory. We need to start now, and we want to do something that is felt by the population. And what we’ve been doing so far, and this has been very nice for me as Danish ambassador, to sense this gratitude: people going to the water station, they know that this is something that Danes have done, not as an act of charity, because we do this because Ukraine’s fight is also our fight because you’re defending European values.

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy visiting the water purification station built with Danish funds (center), with Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen (right), and Minister for Foreign Affairs Lars Løkke Rasmussen (left)

Danes want to support that. Everybody is basically agreeing on the need to help Ukraine. There are no parties saying, no, this is too expensive. We just had the foreign relations committee of the Danish parliament visiting two weeks ago, with representatives from right to left, and normally there’s a lot of disagreement between them, but on Ukraine, they all agree that we need to assist, and we need to assist as long as it takes, and with as much as it takes.

Yet, the main part of what we’re doing here is support for the defence of Ukraine.

Military support: anti-ship missiles, MBT, SPG, and more

Q: Thank you for moving on to the topic of defence. I looked at the official figures from the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs — about 1 billion euros have been spent (and will be spent this year). Of this amount, 834 million is military support. What are the main features of Danish military assistance to Ukraine?

A: I will refer to what was said during the visit on Monday [10th of April 2023] by the Danish minister of defense. He was actually here in Odesa, so he met with Minister [of Defence of Ukraine]Oleksii Reznikov, and of course, they were focusing a lot on the Danish donations. I think that there were mainly two systems that were mentioned. Defense Minister Reznikov used the expression that from now on the leopards will roar with the Danish accent [it means that Denmark with the Netherlands and Germany is involved with the process to deliver Ukraine’s main battle tank Leopard 1A5 – ed.]. They were not in active service, so what is happening now is that the Leopards [tanks]will be prepared. There was also mention of the Harpoon missile system [this type of weapon operated by Kongelige Danske Marine — ed.]that has been delivered. I cannot go into more detail about that. Such systems made it possible to push the Russian fleet away from the port of Odesa. Because prior to that delivery you could basically see the Russian naval vessels just outside the Odesa harbor.

Ukraine received Caesar self-propelled howitzers from Denmark. Source: https://www.edrmagazine.eu/denmark-orders-4-additional-caesar-8×8

You’re probably also aware that the weapon system called Caesar is basically a self-propelled piece of artillery. We basically donated all our Caesars. We will not have a single one left, and this is exactly because we want to support Ukraine in this situation, and again because this is also our own security.

Journalists at war: Ukraine is spoken about in Denmark in every media

Q: Let’s talk about the journalists and the war in Ukraine. As I know, last year there was a scandal with Danish journalist Matilde Kimer. She was in Ukraine and she was before occupied territories, spent several years as a journalist in Russia. On December 20, 2022, Danish Foreign Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen told Reuters that he would work to resolve the matter at the political level.

We know that Matilde Kimer was in some trouble in Ukraine. She was accused of spreading pro-Russian narratives [she denied all accusations – ed.]. What is your position, and what is the Danish position on this situation? I emphasize that it is very important for Ukraine to give journalists the opportunity to report and show the atrocities of the Russian side, the destruction.

This matter was solved. I’m happy that the journalist can work in Ukraine again. And of course, it’s important to document what is happening. The media is playing a major role in ensuring that, just as diplomats and other observers. We are happy that it was possible to solve that case and now we are looking ahead.

Ukraine is spoken about in Denmark in every media. Source: https://www.pexels.com/

Q: Do you have some meetings with Danish journalists? Because sometimes journalists face some problems. Maybe you, as an ambassador, can resolve some problems and show them, for example, some directions to work on?

A: Well, the Danish journalists operating here are very experienced. They have been working in other war zones. Basically, they are used to this heavy focus on security issues, which is quite natural in times of war. I think, by and large, they are able to maintain good contact with the Ukrainian authorities, respecting the safety precautions that, of course, are relevant in a country of war. This is also in the interest of Ukraine, that the Danish public is aware of what is happening, that atrocities can be documented, and that our public can get a first-hand impression of the situation on the ground. And this is likely happening every day. You cannot open your radio news in Denmark without hearing about Ukraine.

European integration of Ukraine: when values matter

Q: Let’s talk about the future because we know that Ukraine will face a lot of problems after the victory of this war. You work a lot in countries in transition. For example, you work in Central European countries and in the Middle East. What is your vision for Ukraine? What must Ukraine be done to be a more successful state after the victory? What does Ukraine need to be done to be a real part of the European Union? Because a lot of the politicians in Ukraine talk to the Ukrainian people that it’s one year, two years, three years [and Ukraine becomes an EU member]. But we all understand it’s a very long process. Maybe step by step, what Ukraine needs to do in the short-range perspective, in the next three-five years to become a more successful, more stable state?

A: I think the most important thing that has happened during my time here was the EU application that was handed in on the 28th of February, 2022, just four days after the Russian full-scale attack. I still remember I said something like: “How can they possibly have the mental energy to do this”? And I talked to some of those who were involved, including Deputy Prime Minister Olha Stefanishyna, and she told me she was sitting in a basement filling out all the papers while the Russians were at the gates of Kyiv. For me, I’m speaking on a personal basis, for me as a European, I was happy to see that in this time of crisis, in this time where the very survival of the nation was at stake, Ukraine was turning towards Europe, turning towards European values.

In order for Ukraine to join the EU, it needs to harmonize legislation and be ready to fulfill the Copenhagen criteria

And the good thing about being an applicant country is that you have to change. It comes, once you start negotiating your accession, you have to adopt your own legislation to what is called the EU acquis, the existing EU legislation and that’s a lot of paper. But you also have to adapt your constitution, the way you run your society, to what is called the Copenhagen criteria. Danes are proud that our capital gave the name to the standard setting for applicant countries. They include the political criteria: you need to have democracy, you need to have the rule of law, you need to be uncorrupted, and you need to respect national minorities and other minorities. There’s a whole list of things that you need to respect. And I have a special affinity because I was actually involved, and I was not playing a major role, but I was in my early career part of the process that led to the Copenhagen criteria. And I’ve seen in Poland, I’ve seen in the Baltic states how approximation to European standards led to a transformative process of basically every corner of society. And I’m pretty confident that Ukraine will show the same resilience, the same fighting power when it comes to changing society as you have shown on the battlefield, because the Russian full-scale attack has also brought Ukrainians together. I think it’s going to be good for Ukraine, but it’s also going to be good for Europe.

Q: I agree that this is good for Europe. This is a workforce, well-educated people, and opportunities for various connections, from the economy to culture. But I don’t quite agree with the comparison between the Baltic States and Ukraine. In my opinion, these are very different cases.

A: You’re right that they are very different and they have different histories. But I think Poland is a good example. I know a little bit about Poland because I served there for four years. And I know that back in the 1990s, it was not an easy process, because, for instance, adapting to the internal market, it basically means that you have to open up your market. You cannot protect your domestic industries, and many local companies had to close. They were not competitive, instead, there were foreign investors who moved in. They brought in technology. They brought in market access, and they created jobs and opportunities. And you see the result today. I think that I’m pretty sure that Ukraine can be just as successful as Poland has been.

«We have common values», says Danish ambassador in Ukraine Ole Egberg Mikkelsen

Q: And the very last question. You started to work at the end of the 1980s. It was the Cold War. It was the Western world and the Soviet bloc, the Soviet Union, and its satellites. What do you think, now there is also a Cold wave between the two systems? On the one hand, the democratic Western world (not in terms of geography, but in terms of values), on the other hand, authoritarian leaders (such as Russia and China)? Does it last for decades, for years, or can it be changed with the changing of the regime inside of the Russian Federation?

From a Ukrainian point of view, the most important thing that has happened is this very clear decision to look west, to look towards Europe. I think that if you look at it in a broader context, I think that the attractiveness of the free world has just gone bigger during this war because suddenly it’s clear that there are differences. Ukraine has democracy. It might not be perfect. There might be people complaining about certain things, but you have democracy. You can choose your parliament. You can choose your president. You have an ombudsman. You have the media. And this is basically something that ensures that things are developing in the right direction. It also makes a difference that you can travel. You don’t have to line up for a visa if you want to go. I think this is something that has been demonstrated very clearly during this Russian attack that the values are important and that Ukraine has chosen European values.

Interviewed by Stanislav Kinka

Photos provided by the Danish Embassy in Ukraine. Authors: Valeriy Fedchenko and Mykhailo Palinchak.

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