FORMER Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko has said Europe must act to repel Russian aggression.
She also paid tribute to the bravery of hundreds killed or injured during anti-government demonstrations, which led to the toppling of president Viktor Yanukovich.
“In recent weeks, Ukraine became more than a country, it became a symbol, an idea, the idea of Europe in freedom, the idea of Europe in strength. Don’t let this be broken,” she said.
She claimed European nation building contrasted sharply with Russia’s use of the Kalashnikov firearm.
“The Kremlin must understand that Ukraine is a state and not a territory; a sovereign nation that is free to join Europe,” she said. “It is not a vassal … or a colony that can be driven into a cage.
“We are different, we are free and we want something else that [Vladimir] Putin can give us today: for the Kremlin to understand a simple truth – we need action, we need a bit of Europe, which has always spoken in one voice.”
Ms Tymoshenko, 53, is seen as a strong contender at the next presidential election. Her Fatherland party dominates the current parliament.
But the star of the 2004 “Orange Revolution” was defeated in 2010 in a vote considered free and fair by outside observers.
She was jailed for seven years in 2011, freed on 22 February and travelled from Kharkiv to address the Kiev crowds.
She told a Dublin audience of centre-right European politicians there was little time left to rescue Crimea and warned against allowing Russia to hold a referendum “at gunpoint” on the annexation of the region.
“The issue is the survival of our country, of our democracy and ancient nation,” she said.
“The time has come to force everyone, including the Russian leadership, to understand that Europe exists and that it will not tolerate the largest European country being torn to shreds.”
Her intervention followed a Dublin address by fellow opposition leader Vitali Klitschko.
The former world boxing champion emerged as a political campaigner during the Orange Revolution and was vocal in the Maidan protests in Kiev. He said Russia’s military action was a provocation and that it was using language to divide the country, to split Russian speakers from the rest. “All of this was a scenario created by Putin,” he said.