Tamsin Shasha describes her experience at the Stand With Ukraine march in London on 26 March 2022.
I am at the Stand With Ukraine march in London organised by the Mayor of London and partnered with the European Movement. With me are my ten-year-old son, Theo and husband Mark, who I have dragged with me on many previous protests in Brighton and London: for People’s Vote, climate action or otherwise. But this time it’s different. My husband crafted our home-made love-hearts on sticks and a large Ukrainian flag, put together on bright blue and yellow card. The feeling and the need to be on this march is more urgent than before. I am wearing a vivid yellow top and blue trousers. I am upside down I guess in terms of the order of things, but at least I am on the right track.
The march is from Park Lane to Trafalgar Square and we arrive early. It’s a glorious blue sky day and the sun is beating down. On the train up from Brighton I tweeted that I was hoping for a sea of blue and yellow. We look around us at the start and I gulp: there seems to be only a trickle of colour. Perhaps it was organised too late, perhaps there will only be a few hundred of us. I meet my friends Pez Pearson and Chris Hammond and a few others and we gather outside the Dorchester waiting to start.
Someone is shouting and holding a flag that represents the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (Pez reliably informs me) and has a throng of people around him. He’s very angry. My son asks me what he’s shouting about. To be honest I’m not sure, but he definitely isn’t a fan of Russia! And then he’s gone, swallowed up into the swelling mass of people, waiting for the march to start. Not hundreds now, I think. Surely more. My right foot is throbbing. The plantar fasciitis that’s been the bane of my life recently is complaining again. I knew this would be tricky. We’ll be moving soon, I assure myself.
The march begins
And then we’re off, a very stop-start beginning, not so much a march as a hobble, certainly from my enfeebled perspective. But the crowd is still growing, the energy is palpable and the rallying cries have begun. My son tests his homemade battle cry on others (I apologise in advance for this four-line chant – the last line said at triple speed):
Vladimir Putin is a complete and utter bitch
All his own work I assure you and I feel a sense of pride, even though owners of female dogs may gripe. The slang for bitch is ‘a malicious, unpleasant, selfish person’ and I think we can all agree that Putin is, at the very least, that.
By the same author
We are marching now and there are thousands of us. There is quite literally a sea of blue and yellow and my heart (the cardboard one that I’m carrying and the one safely encased in my body) soars high. On we march, from Park Lane to Piccadilly, Haymarket to Trafalgar Square. The Georgian flag flies cheek-by-jowl with the flag of Kazakhstan, a Union Jack sandwiched in between, with quite a few EU flags proudly waved and matching berets to boot. We see flags from independent Belarus and modern Lithuania, and Polish flags a plenty.
I suddenly feel something in my heart that I haven’t felt for a while. Pride. Pride in my country. Pride that we are here and that we care. Pride that we challenge this government’s disorganised and despicable response to the refugee crisis: their insistence on bureaucratic visas for those women and children trying to make a swift passage to safety, fleeing a beloved but war-torn home.
We arrive at Trafalgar Square and hear the tail end of David Lammy’s rousing speech: “We demand the freedom of the people of Ukraine…..Let history say London and the UK stood with the Ukrainian people”. The crowd erupts into roars of approval.
Many rousing speeches follow, ably MC’d by Jude Kelly, but the one that struck me the most is delivered from a bunker in Kyiv by the Mayor, Vitali Klitschko. The suspense is palpable as the crowd waits patiently for Vitali, the former heavyweight world-boxing champion to speak.
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, takes the stage for the final address, but gallantly steps aside when, to our relief, Vitali speaks, telling us all to “keep together” with Ukraine. The spectators roar in response as battle cries of “Stand with Ukraine” and “Slava Ukraini” (Glory to Ukraine) are chanted. It’s such a vivid and visceral moment and one that I shall never forget.
Anna Bird, CEO of the European Movement, speaks for all of us when she says in her speech: “Today together we tell Putin he will fail.”
As the crowd disperses and we all go back to our safe and bomb-free homes, I pray that he does.
Tamsin Shasha is a Director of Festival of Europe which is launching at Byline Festival (@BylineFest) on 29 April.
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