Meet the Ambassador - Ukraine

Meet the Dutch Ambassador in Kyiv

Jennes de Mol, the Dutch ambassador to Ukraine, explains that the war with Russia actually began back in 2014, with Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and the downing of flight MH17. ‘The invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022 marked the start of a new phase of extreme violence, and one he fears will not end anytime soon. This is a war about freedom, culture, values and identity. Russia wants to wipe Ukraine off the map.’

Jennes de Mol. Image: ©Dutch embassy Kyiv
You took up your post as Dutch ambassador in Kyiv in 2019. What issues was the Dutch embassy concerned with at that time?

‘I travelled around Ukraine a lot in that initial period. I went from Odesa to Kharkiv, for example, and on to the ‘contact line’ – the border where Ukrainian armed forces in the Donbas were facing off against the separatists. Those separatists were Russian soldiers, though we weren’t 100% sure of that back then.
‘The embassy’s work at that time consisted of diplomatic activities, such as maintaining political contacts, as well as fostering economic and agricultural cooperation, and providing consular services – passports and visas – to Dutch and Ukrainian nationals respectively. The embassy was already feeling the impact of the conflict with Russia: we were dealing with the aftermath of the downing of flight MH17 and supporting demining efforts in areas near the contact line. We were also working to support journalists, foster the rule of law in Ukraine, combat corruption and promote the rights of LGBTIQ+ people.’

How did the full-scale invasion influenced the operation of the embassy?
The first year after the full-scale invasion our team was working from different locations and only had a  few with us in Kyiv. There was a lot of work for us to do, for example on accountability, security and EU accession. Last year, the embassy team grown significantly and new focus areas include reconstruction, energy security and protection of cultural heritage. Although the primary scope of work has not changed, with our increased team we are able to perform more specialized.
‘For instance, we recently had a Dutch forensic team of 40 people here working under the aegis of the International Criminal Court to aid in the investigation of war crimes. In total more than fifty thousand incidents of violence and crimes committed by the Russians have now been registered and documented.’

What’s it like to be an ambassador in a time of war?
‘The threat is always there. We work for several weeks in Kyiv, followed by some time off in the Netherlands in order to catch our breath and recuperate. 
‘I’ve heard a lot of stories from colleagues, friends and other contacts in the country, which have both moved and saddened me greatly. Everyone knows people who’ve been affected. People who’ve been forced to flee. People who’ve been captured, tortured or even killed. The scale of human suffering that’s playing out here is almost beyond comprehension.
As Dutch ambassador I ensure of the fact that the Netherlands keeps actively supporting Ukraine with military, but also humanitarian and financial aid and will be doing so until Ukraine prevails as it is the only way to protect security and unity in the whole Europe.
As Dutch ambassador I ensure of the fact that the Netherlands keeps actively supporting Ukraine with military, but also humanitarian and financial aid and will be doing so until Ukraine prevails.

Image: ©Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Before you became ambassador in Kyiv, you worked in Africa and Afghanistan, but you’d mainly had postings in Central and Eastern Europe and Russia, such as in Moscow, Prague and St Petersburg. Why does this region appeal to you? 
‘It was more coincidence than anything. When I performed my military service in the early 1990s, the Berlin Wall had just come down, and I opted to learn Russian at the School of Military Intelligence. I developed a good command of the language, not realising that a chance decision would form the thread running through my entire career. If I look back now, I can see that my knowledge of Russian has brought me into contact with people all over the world. Not only in Russia and Ukraine, but also in Afghanistan, for example. Many educated Afghans speak Russian and are proud of that.
After my military service I joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. First, I was based in The Hague, where I worked on Tanzania, and then I was posted to the embassy in Moscow. During Yeltsin’s presidency I was Cultural Attaché in Moscow, then Deputy Ambassador in Prague, and later Consul-General in St Petersburg. So when I eventually became ambassador to Ukraine, I was very familiar with the region. In fact, I’d already spent time in Kyiv in connection with the downing of flight MH17.’

Earlier you described yourself as an optimist. Are you optimistic about an eventual end to this war?
‘This is a war about identity, culture, values and freedom. Russia wants to wipe Ukraine off the map. I think the war will continue for a while to come, longer than anyone hoped or wanted. It’s impressive to see how people here in Ukraine are so firmly convinced that they will be victorious. People here are resilient. And they feel the support of the West, which remains essential.
As for me personally, my posting in Ukraine will end in the summer of 2024. I will have spent 5 years in Ukraine and , it will be very strange to leave. I’ve come to deeply admire the resilience of the Ukrainians. I feel truly invested in these people and what happens to them.’