With “a different kind of warfare” on the rise, young people can prepare by embracing technology and education

Kateryna Yushchenko, former first lady of Ukraine, urged young people to speak truth to power in the face of injustice and create a world where they can’t be influenced by disinformation.

“Speak out to your elected representatives. Speak out to the media when you see something that’s very unfair,” she said on February 16, speaking in connection with the exclusive series with world leaders organized by the Speak Truth to Power Team at RFK Human Rights and the Nizami Ganjavi International Center.

“I read a piece today that said that the next big war for the United States—something at the level of 9/11—will be huge cyberattacks from enemy powers,” she said. “It’s very important that young people think differently and think more technologically in a more advanced way to be able to deal with new challenges.”

Yushchenko delivered her remarks to virtual event attendees just a day after Ukraine’s ministry of defense said it had been hit with a cyberattack amid heightened tensions with Russia as U.S. officials warned that a fresh invasion by Moscow was imminent. She raised the alarm over the threat of Russia-sponsored cyberattacks against Ukraine and other countries and advised young people to prepare for “a different kind of warfare” by embracing the power of technology and education.

She blamed the current standoff on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s fear of democratic consolidation in Ukraine since the country gained independence in 1991 after the fall of the Soviet Union.

“He’s afraid of NATO’s values of freedom, free elections, and transparency that threaten his ability to [stay] in power without elections,” she said.

Putin, she said, wants to show his own people that he’s relevant and making Russia great again: “He wants his neighbors to fear him, and that’s very central to his geopolitical strategy. Putin’s greatest fear is that there will be a colored revolution like our Orange Revolution.”

Yushchenko, whose husband, Viktor, barely survived an assassination attempt in 2004 and was president of Ukraine from 2005 to 2010, accused Russia of sponsoring disinformation campaigns on social media and television to change perspectives about Ukraine.

“They’ve managed to do so much through social media and through what’s called Russia Today, their television station, where every day they’re giving a different narrative that is so far from the truth,” she said. “And I’m afraid that many people are not hearing the true story of what’s happening in Ukraine.”

Asked if the Ukrainian education system would be adversely affected by a Russian invasion, Yushchenko said in parts of Ukraine already occupied by Russia due to previous military incursions it has changed dramatically. All their books have been rewritten to be very pro-Russia: “It’s very much a return to the Soviet days in those areas that Russia controls.”

To stop Putin from winning the war against democracy in Ukraine, Yushchenko said the West must develop a long-term strategy that transcends every election cycle, noting that “Putin will only go as far as the West lets him. When he meets a wall of resistance, he will quake.”

Quoting Israeli historian and philosopher Yuval Noah Harari, she said “humanity’s greatest political achievement has been the end of war. We should not be putting that achievement in jeopardy.”

Yushchenko thanked RFK Human Rights for promoting freedom and justice in the U.S. and around the world. “I’ve been very, very impressed with the Speak Truth to Power program,” she said. “I have heard many of the very moving and important stories, and I’m proud to become involved over the last couple of years and I’m proud to call Kerry Kennedy and Karen [Robinson] close friends.”