Such an attitude of a man who has no direct ties to Ukraine but is deeply concerned about its fate is always very touching and even somewhat surprising. That's why we started our conversation with the question about Mr Claude Ruey's internal motives.
For me, the most important thing is to find an answer to the question “why are you so moved by Ukraine”.
It's quite simple - I am part of the human race, and people are my brothers and sisters. This is the first thing. But besides that, I have always had a lot of friendly compassion for people who were under the Soviet yoke for so long. I was born after the Second World War, grew up during the Cold War, and we had a clear understanding that freedom in the Soviet Union was not as great as it was in Ukraine. And the first thing I was taught in my family was freedom. Freedom and respect for people as the highest value. This compassion alone creates an extremely strong connection with Ukraine and other Eastern European countries. When I was a child, the invasion of Hungary was a very painful experience for me. What happened in Prague in '68 was less impactful because I was emotionally older.
As for Ukraine, unfortunately, we did not pay enough attention to what happened in 2014 when the Russians occupied Crimea. And when the full-scale invasion took place last year, the reaction was much stronger. Then my wife said to me: "I don't understand why it affects you so much although I have a very emotional connection with you."
I hope that over time I can be as useful to someone as you are.
Your support gives me strength, it gives me a future.
You are very useful.
I have to say that the strength of Ukrainians is in that they give strength to us. The way they resist gives us strength also. So there is a mutual exchange between us - it is a two-way street, not a one-way street. And this is very important.
Claude Ruey with Minister of Justice and Federal Counselor Elisabeth Baume-Schneider in Bern on September 19, 2023 at a former members of parliament meeting
What is your experience of interacting with Ukrainians?
I have only good experience. Some people have had bad experiences, because not all people are perfect, fortunately. For example, someone recently told me: "I hosted Ukrainians in my home, but they complained that the apartment didn't have a spa and a jacuzzi." I replied: "Yes, some people are used to it, and that's good." But personally, I only have good relationships with people. Even if there are some cases. For example, we had three 20-year-old Ukrainians who drank alcohol, but that's typical for a 20-year-old. So we just had to reorient them a little bit. Otherwise, there was a lot of positive, mutual encouragement, exchange and friendship. You give something and get a lot in return. For example, the other day I was invited to dinner at a family's house, and my grandmother made me a three-kilogram Napoleon cake!
And for Christmas, we ate Ukrainian food because we invited a Ukrainian family who lives next door, and they treated us to various Ukrainian dishes. And there was also this incredible Napoleon for dessert (smiles, ed.)
We are already connected by friendship and many other things. We spent first Easter and then Christmas together on the Julian calendar with the sisters of the St Maurice monastery in Bexy, in the canton of Vaud. The sisters of Bexi have a large monastery and a chalet where people from Kharkiv live. I met them and we organised an Easter celebration with a service in many languages, with the abbot of the Abbey of Saint Maurice.
Afterwards, we had a meal. Such holidays are also moments of exchange.
At the same time, the sisters of the monastery told us that they had special cards for notes, and the Ukrainians wrote many grateful words on them to the Swiss who received them. But those notes also contained a lot of worries and anxiety about the war.
It was a good time to talk and share important things. You know, when you meet a colonel who was wounded in the war in Donbas and can barely walk, and he talks about his feelings, it is very moving and enriching.
I was the head of the military department for a long time, and when this gentleman comes up to me and shakes my hand, it is very valuable to me.
And when we hold information sessions, we end with the Ukrainian national anthem, and then everyone sings along. It's amazing.
Why did you decide to hold these sessions?
When a Ukrainian family moved into my second apartment and we started to communicate with them, we realised that we had no information and we didn't know where to find it. Yes, there were some websites, but there wasn't much there that was clear.
So I realised that there was a great need for information.
I had been involved in asylum issues when I was a government official, president of a charity organisation of the Swiss Protestant Church and a political leader who opposed the overly strict laws of Mr Blocher (the politician who developed and implemented the "anti-mass immigration" initiative proposed by the SVP party - ed.
And now I realise that we have to look for information and spread it. So we organised sessions with a few people, then created the association Réseau Troistorrents Morgins Ukraine to provide a legal framework.
We also work with the authorities, in particular, with the Office for Refugees. I am in contact with the head of the social protection department. When I had four or five cases that I handed over to him, all of them were resolved. I also had the opportunity to discuss various problems with the deputy head of the asylum.
It turns out that I often act as a liaison with the administration to get and pass on important information. For example, no one knew that Ukrainians could keep their cars for another year. There was already a decision on this, but no one announced it, so we did it.
In the context of these cars, a Swiss young man once asked me: "Have you seen those Ukrainian guys with the cars?"
I replied: "Yes, I have, but if your house is bombed, will you come on rollerblades?"
We also have to talk about the education of Ukrainians.
Classroom facility from the Association overseen by Claude Ruey
Internships are one of the most important forms of education in Switzerland. We have universities, and everyone thinks that this is the best choice. But it's not really true, because if you have a good profession, say, plumbing, electrician or any other, you can have an extremely good professional future, maybe even better than a lawyer. Therefore, it is worth paying attention to opportunities in this area. Currently, the Confederation has decided that those who start their studies before the age of 25 will be able to complete them even when the war is over.
That means Ukrainians will be able to stay in Switzerland until the end of their studies, until they master their profession. I think this is a good thing.
Of course, it's a bit of a pity that they can't go back to Ukraine right away, but they will have holidays to visit their homeland. I think that having a good profession as a plumber or an electrician, they will be needed in Kharkiv, Odesa and Kyiv.
Switzerland has done well in this decision. It should be the same with university education. This can be useful for Ukraine in general.
Can we talk a little more about integration?
Yes. The first thing that Ukrainians who are here should do is to learn the language. French and German. French is, in general, an international language. When you go to, say, the Olympic Games, there are two official languages - English and French. But in any case, learning the language of your canton is a very important condition for integration.
Claude and Elizabeth Ruey at a rally supported by Ukraine
How else do Ukrainians fit into your team?
Ukrainians volunteered during the Tour de France, worked in the stands, and were also involved in various similar organisations.
There was a Ukrainian stand at the Christmas market where they offered their food. This is another way of integration. We put out a card there so that visitors could transfer money, and they essentially paid for everything we spent.
But the fact that Ukrainians came, offered something and showed that we exist. And it was very important.
Another example: one of the Ukrainian women, Svitlana, comes to the choir because she was a music teacher in her country. In addition, this lady, who is 67 years old, meets a Swiss woman in a bakery every Monday and they talk. At first, they needed an interpreter, but now they are speaking more and more in French.
Integration can happen in different ways.
In particular, interaction also takes place through all kinds of movements.
In the future, I think we need to develop broad economic, social and cultural cooperation. There are a lot of Swiss companies in Ukraine. They are currently having problems because they don't know how to continue their work in the context of the war. But cooperation needs to be strengthened.
Switzerland is not part of the European Union. I am pro-European, but we are not in the EU. Ukraine will probably not join the European Union right away either, because it takes a long time. But we are Europeans and we have to cooperate.
By the way, I have skis made in Ukraine. It's an American brand, but it says "Made in Ukraine" on them.
Is there anything that you are not very happy with in terms of cooperation between Ukraine and Switzerland?
What irritates me as a politician is the story of the weapons we sold to the Germans, and they cannot give them to the Ukrainians. It kills me.
I am no longer in parliament, but even then I did not understand what was happening.
The head of my party said that we should be able to do this, but it was refused. We'll see what happens next. But when you help someone to defend themselves, it's not the same as helping someone attack.
I absolutely agree.
Anyone who defends themselves should have a weapon. That's what I always said when I was in the charity organisation of the Swiss Protestant Church, Entraide Protestante Suisse. They were against Switzerland exporting arms.
And I said: "For ethical reasons, I am in favour of some arms exports.
We recognise that we have to have weapons to defend ourselves because we live in a world where, unfortunately, there is no absolute peace. And if we are preparing to defend ourselves, why shouldn't we help others to do so?"
I understand that you cannot give weapons to aggressive people, but I think it is fair to help others defend themselves. The whole situation is a bit sad, but as I wrote to a Protestant pastor: "This is not heaven."
And it is.
The philosopher Pascal said: "Man is neither an angel nor a beast, but misfortune arranges it so that those who want to be like an angel become a beast."
That's a good ending. Thank you.
Claude Ruey is a Swiss politician.
From 1990 to 2002, he was a state councillor in the canton of Vaud, where he headed three different departments.
From 1999 to 2011, he was elected to the National Council, where he served in the Foreign Policy Committee.
He studied political science and law at the University of Lausanne.
In addition to his successful political career, he was also very active in the voluntary sector, serving as President of the Fondation l'EPER (HEKS), a charity of the Swiss Protestant Church, from 2008 to 2017.
For 20 years, he was Chairman of the Chateau de Chillon Foundation and Chairman of the Visions du Réel International Film Festival.
In April 22, he founded the association Réseau Troistorrents Morgins Ukraine to help Ukrainians in Switzerland.
The photos are provided from the personal archive of Mr. Claude Ruey and from the chillon.ch website