Sunday afternoon at The Level in Brighton under a golden sun and a clear blue sky, Ukrainians gathered, draped in their blue and yellow flags or waving them in defiant solidarity with their countrymen and women defending their homeland against a tyrant and his battalions.
The laughter and shouts of children from the playground, the fun being had by skateboarders and cyclists and the people taking peaceful Sunday walks in the parks seemed a surreal backdrop to stories that were being told at the vigil for the Ukraine.
Brighton Kemptown MP, Lloyd Russell-Moyle, addressed the crowd and a message was read from Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion. But primarily this was an occasion for Ukrainians to speak of their grief, anxiety and horror at what is happening to their country, their families and their friends.
Most of the speakers were young and it was devastating to listen to the bewilderment and fear in their voices as they shared their experiences.
Parents pretended the explosions were thunder
One young woman said that each day she prayed and waited for the text message from her family to say that they were still all alive and well. She had younger brothers and sisters who, like so many other children in besieged Kyiv, were being told bedtime stories in underground shelters rather than their own beds and how parents had to pretend that the bombs and explosions were thunder.
Another wept as she related her memories of a happy family holiday in Ukraine last August. Yet another contrasted this Sunday with the previous Sunday when people were preparing for work or school the next day, for taking children to nurseries, for shopping trips, going to the gym, meeting friends for coffee and all the ordinary, everyday things that a country at peace takes for granted.
One girl told us that, at the beginning of the week she had bought and wrapped up presents for a best friend’s birthday but now she doubted whether they would ever arrive. No matter how inured we are to the chaos and human misery brought about by war, these human stories emphasised once more the cost in every aspect of life.
Defending cities with home-made barricades
Whilst experiences were different, all struggled with what could be done to stop the invasion and all spoke overwhelmingly of the need for a peaceful outcome. They asked for Ukrainian flags to be displayed everywhere and for more marches and vigils plus stricter sanctions but against overwhelming odds, it was military help that was needed.
Their army is vastly outnumbered and out-resourced and the civilians are defending their cities with home-made bombs, barricades and handguns. Understanding that the conflict could easily spread beyond Ukraine and that the situation was complex, they urged Europe and the UK to go beyond economic sanctions.
Just how far Europe or the UK will go is anyone’s guess but the Brighton MPs were far from complimentary as to what has been done so far by our Government. Despite claiming to be out in front, it has been slow to implement the most severe sanctions and to cut links with Russian donors to the Conservative Party (if indeed that has been done), plus dealing with the amount of Russian investment that is associated with the City of London.
Shame of no UK visa waivers for those fleeing
It is a matter for national shame that the Government has not made visa waivers available for Ukrainians fleeing the country and that one minister actually had the nerve to suggest they apply through normal channels, using the points system. An appalling tweet that has since been taken down suggested that fleeing Ukrainians could apply to be summer agricultural workers.
As the vigil drew to an end there was a minute’s silence for prayer and reflection before the Ukrainians led us all in their national anthem. Most had their flags to wave, many had anti-Putin placards and there were also some women wearing the flowery national headdress which in these threatening times have become a symbol of peace and Ukrainian nationalism.
Those of us who were not Ukrainian were moved to tears by the passion in the voices but we swiftly picked up the rallying cry at the end of “Slava Ukrainie!” (“Glory to Ukraine”)
Other events are planned – the next one will be a day-long vigil at St. Nicholas’ Church in Church St, Brighton. The link to the website is: https://www.standforukrainebnh.org/