In an exclusive interview with Kyiv Post, Portugal’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, João Gomes Cravinho, has said it’s important not only to rebuild walls, but also to build the future of Ukraine through its education system.

Cravinho sees Ukraine as becoming a part of the European Union and NATO, and believes in the country's victory in the war with Russia.

“It will be a victory for us as well,” Cravinho said.

Tell us why Portugal decided to rebuild Zhytomyr region?

Well, actually, firstly we want to show our solidarity with Ukraine. We show our solidarity in many different ways. We support politically, but also militarily and financially and in a humanitarian way, receiving many Ukrainians in Portugal.

President Volodymyr Zelensky, suggested that we should look at a specific region  and concentrate some support there. And our Prime Minister agreed. So, we accepted the idea of Zhytomyr and to work on the education sector because rebuilding Ukraine is about building the future and the best way to build the future is to work on education.

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So, then we found not only excellent partners in the Zhytomyr authorities, but also Estonia had a similar idea. So, now we are working, the three of us, and we are very happy with this. And we hope that this can be a good example for other parts of Ukraine.

What have you done so far?

What we have been doing is talking with the authorities about the concept and now we are moving towards the construction phase of schools. Because the construction has to be more than just rebuilding walls. It has to be building a new future, a different future, a better future. And for that you need to understand how you want to transform the education system.

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So, the first part has really been about conceptualizing, about thinking together about what is the best way of building Ukraine's future through its education system. And now is the phase when we can go to the physical construction, which corresponds to the mental conception that we've been developing with the Ukrainian authorities.

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But what are the conditions of your help? Will Ukraine owe Portugal anything?

No, this is something that we will do, of course, as a donation to Ukraine. Ukraine will need the support of many partners. It's a question of solidarity. So, the recompense for us will be to see Ukraine become strong and healthy and with a great future ahead of it. That's the recompense we want.

So, you believe in Ukrainian victory, right?

We absolutely believe in Ukrainian victory. We think it is not only possible, but it is necessary. And we are completely willing to stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes to reach this victory. It will be a victory for us as well.

Portugal’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, João Gomes Cravinho. PHOTO: AFP

How do you rate Ukrainian European integration and Atlantic integration?

Well, both of these are big challenges. Our process took 9 years. In Portugal we made the request in 1976 and we entered in 1985. So, it took a long time. Maybe it will be less for Ukraine. 

One of the things that is very clear is that this process of reconstruction can actually accelerate the accession because it means that the reconstruction is already done according to the standards and the regulations and the ideas and concepts which are the European Union ones. So, we must take the very bad circumstances and look at the advantages that exist in there in order to move forward more quickly.

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And the same with NATO.

But do you believe that Ukraine will get a NATO membership invite at upcoming summit?

I think that is very difficult from what I have heard from other countries. But this is a process. And because of Article 5 in NATO, which means that any country that is attacked, the whole of the alliance is attacked, if Ukraine came in today, we would be at war with Russia.

But at the same time, it is very important that Russia does not have a veto. So, Russia cannot, through just continuing to attack Ukraine, even after Ukrainian victory. And we cannot allow that to be a veto for Ukraine's entry into NATO.

Ukraine has the right to enter NATO. And we open our arms and welcome Ukraine. And we hope that the right moment can come very early.

Is it true that the USA and Germany are not ready to give Ukraine this invite?

I am the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Portugal. I think you have to ask the people that you mentioned.

What do you think about the idea of Ukrainian authorities to return Ukrainian refugees from Europe to Ukraine, especially men, because the country needs active mobilization right now.

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This is something that the Ukrainian authorities have to work on, how they have the capacity in order to face up to the invasion. But, of course, those Ukrainians who are in Portugal, men, women, children, we welcome them in Portugal until they are ready and have the circumstances to come back.

So, we have many in Portugal, mostly women and children, or some who have been in Portugal for 20 years or 30 years. They are very welcome. But we also hope that they have the option of coming back when the circumstances are right.

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