Chris Law, SNP International Development and Climate Justice spokesperson and MP for Dundee West, writes for The National about his recent experiences in Ukraine.

The campaign for Scotland’s independence continues in a peaceful, lively and democratic manner. Elsewhere in Europe, however, the fight for democracy continues to struggle, going unnoticed or ignored depending on who you speak to and often involving the horrors of conflict.

As Liverpool fans were arriving in Ukraine’s capital Kiev for the Champions League Final, I was arriving home from a parliamentary fact-finding mission in Eastern Ukraine, shocked and saddened to see how fragile the country’s independence truly is.

The region is too often described as being in “frozen conflict”, with a “contact zone” as the “line of control”, euphemistic terms to hide what it really is – a war with a front line where every night there are regular artillery shells and gunshots, and venturing out into the streets risks life and limb. The front line is saturated with IED landmines – despicable weapons which mean civilians pay the highest price for conflict.

With the war entering its fifth year, the region is scarred. There is enormous damage to infrastructure and many residents are displaced, most intensely in Donetsk and Luhansk. It is a war between the Ukrainian government forces and Russian-backed separatists and estimates suggest that more than 10,500 civilians have been killed, with many more injured. This is quadruple the number killed fighting for the Ukrainian forces.

More than two million have fled their homes and are at risk of physical and sexual assault, abduction, and suffer shortages of shelter, food and health services. The UN estimates that 75% require urgent humanitarian aid and protection, yet it is reported that the response is severely underfunded. With the ongoing targeting of civilian housing, hospitals and schools over the past four years, no-one has escaped what has come to be called Russia’s hybrid war. These citizens are trapped in the crossfire of a war not of their making, yet suffer the most. Why is this not regularly on our front pages, you might ask?

Situated about 10km north of Donetsk, right on the front line, Avdiivka was once a town of 35,000, with its industry of coke production being the main employer. It’s like a scene out of Terminator 2, this post-Soviet hulk of ageing machinery, of fire, flames, toxic fumes and steam which is vital to the region. Its 4000 workers keep the enormous furnaces glowing whilst always under threat of shelling – which has struck the facility more than 300 times so far.

Morso Magomedov, the plant manager seen by many as a war hero, jokes that in the evening when the shelling usually begins “that it’s time to stop playing tennis”. With such shelling and destruction, he says they have developed so many innovations to ensure the plant remains open that he has lost count.

Yet life struggles on for local residents. A wet-wipe factory sits in the foreground looking more like a bunker than a small enterprise. The face of Anna, a local teacher, is painted on a pockmarked and shell-scarred residential block of flats, a symbol of hope with a look of reproach on her face. These flats, once beautifully painted with shades of pastel colours, have seen regular shelling. Some families have taken direct hits whilst watching television or having dinner. Yet despite the building’s incredibly fragile state, a few families continue to reside there. They have nowhere else to go.

A small memorial to those who have died there has photographs with spent Russian shells lying side by side with laid flowers. I stood uncomfortably with my colleagues Douglas Chapman and Stewart McDonald in flak jackets and helmets along with MPs from the Ukrainian parliament, surrounded by the eery quiet of streets absent of any traffic.

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) parliamentary assembly has stated the need to grant “all international and humanitarian organisations immediate access to the territories under occupation in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine” (Tbilisi Declaration, 2016) along with the full implementation of the Minsk Agreements. Yet, trust is low in achieving any peaceful end to the deadlock that continues to blight Ukraine, with the latest ceasefire only lasting 10 minutes.

A resumption of normality, where people such as those I saw in Avdiivka can go about their daily lives without fear of landmines and shelling and a returned hope of a better future, is the first step to any proper sustainable peace. Until then, people will continue to suffer.

The EU recently stated that Ukraine has the right to protect its national interest and its territory. That surely is a given. However urgent humanitarian assistance is required and hard-headed decisions need to be made based on the needs of its citizens.

When Scotland wins its independence, it must continue to be a beacon to the world of inclusion, social justice and a leader in protecting human rights, upholding international law and demonstrating that sovereignty is our right to protect.

So while our debate continues and the campaign strengthens, let us count our blessings that we can debate in a liberal democracy and in doing so we share those values with others, like the fledgling democracy of Ukraine which fights for its sovereignty tooth and nail.