A man hugs his child in a makeshift bomb shelter in a metro station in Ukraine

Sergyi Badylevych, 41, kisses his baby, as his wife Natalia Badylevych, 42, looks on in an underground metro station used as bomb shelter in Kyiv on March 2, 2022. (Photo: Aris Messinis/STF/AFP via Getty Images)

People of Ukraine Collectively Awarded EU's Highest Human Rights Prize

"This award is for those Ukrainians fighting on the ground. For those who have been forced to flee. For those who have lost relatives and friends. For all those who stand up and fight for what they believe in."

For their efforts to protect "democracy, freedom, and rule of law" amid Russia's invasion, the people of Ukraine were named the collective recipients of the European Union's most prestigious human rights award on Wednesday.

Announcing the winners of the Sakharov Prize, E.U. lawmakers particularly praised Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who drew international praise in the early weeks of Russia's attack on his country for remaining in Kyiv to rally the public and appeal to Russian soldiers not to participate in the war.

The European Parliament nominated Zelenskyy for his "bravery, endurance and devotion to his people," the Irish Examinerreported.

The country's emergency services; volunteer medic Yuliia Paievska, who was held captive by the Russian military for three months; human rights activist Oleksandra Matviychuk; and Mayor Ivan Fedorov of the occupied city of Melitopol, who was abducted and held for five days after refusing to collaborate with the Russians, were also named as notable Ukrainians.

"This award is for those Ukrainians fighting on the ground," said European Parliament President Roberta Metsola. "For those who have been forced to flee. For those who have lost relatives and friends. For all those who stand up and fight for what they believe in."

"I know that the brave people of Ukraine will not give up and neither will we," she added.

The award was announced as Russian President Vladimir Putin declared martial law in four illegally annexed regions of Ukraine. Russia's control of the strategic city of Kherson appeared to be weakening, The New York Times reported Wednesday.

Putin has garnered international outrage for threatening to use his country's nuclear weapons, most recently in a speech last month.

E.U. lawmakers praised the people of Ukraine for defending their country and homes "against a brutal regime that seeks to undermine our democracy, weaken and divide our Union."

The Sakharov Prize, which was first given out in 1988 and was named for Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, has previously been awarded to former South African President Nelson Mandela and detained Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

The EUR50,000 ($48,000) award will be presented on December 14 in Strasbourg, France.

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