It’s 2pm at Sunday’s (February 27) war in Ukraine protest, and the Met Police have blocked all roads into 10 Downing Street. The crowd diverts to Trafalgar Square, with thousands of people flooding the surrounding streets to demonstrate against Russian president Vladamir Putin’s brutal invasion of the country. The colours of the Ukrainian flag ripple through the square as protesters chant in chorus: “protect our skies”, in reference to calls for a no-fly zone, and “more sanctions for Russia”. Later on, a famous Ukrainian rock song blasts out the speakers, as the crowd burst into collective song.
Elsewhere, the Russian embassy’s walls in Kensington Gardens are covered in chalk-written anti-war messages, drawings of Ukrainian flags, and splattered with eggs and fake blood.
Similar events across Britain – in Newcastle, Brighton, Bristol, Exeter, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Nottingham, Cambridge, Oxford, and Norwich – also took place this weekend, as well as demonstrations across the world from the US to Italy to Thailand. Large-scale protests also took place in Moscow and St Petersburg despite violent attacks by riot police and Putin’s threats to shut off the internet across the nation.
Speaking from the London demonstration, a protester called Eva says: “I attended Saturday and Sunday protests because it felt impossible to stay at home. I’m from Latvia but have roots and remote family in Russia and Ukraine. A scenario like this felt absolutely implausible until the very end, even when increasingly horrifying updates started coming through on the feeds of the few independent Russian media outlets I follow. The feeling of helplessness and sadness was overwhelming and there was a need to convert this into positive action.”
“I hope people everywhere go out and send a message. I hope people in Russia see these protests. The information war is raging on and the Russian state-sanctioned propaganda has been chipping away at a framework for justifying this act of aggression for a while (now obvious in retrospect), as well blocking out any “unofficial” (not state-sanctioned) reporting. So there are many difficult conversations to be had, not least in my immediate family. But we must not relent the hope to break through, and these protests are a powerful way to send the message.”
Olya, a Ukrainian national based in London, shares: “Protests have always been a physical, tactile proof of what people demand from their governments. So far it proved many times to be the most productive way of achieving results on a big scale. This massacre can be stopped only with the help of the global community.”
“It is also essential to highlight that protesting does not only take place in the streets, there are millions of things you can do to take action from home, even from your phone. You can raise awareness, donate, or simply inform yourself in order to be able to help when you can. Act or demand action!”
Putin began his ruthless invasion of Ukraine on Thursday (February 24), when Russian troops attacked the country by land, air and sea. The attack, which has already killed hundreds, has resulted in thousands of Ukrainians fleeing to Poland.
The EU has announced that it will support plans to take in all Ukrainian refugees for up to three years without the need for asylum. Shamefully less accommodating, the UK has said that Ukraine can come to the UK if they have immediate family who are British nationals. This, however, does not apply to the siblings or spouses of said refugees. As of today (February 28), Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced £40 million of further humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
Economic sanctions have been applied across the EU and Britain to hobble the Russian economy, including an asset freeze on all Russian banks and a cut on Russian banks out of Swift – an international payments system. Meanwhile, Putin has put his nuclear deterrent on ‘special alert’ following what he’s called “aggressive” comments by NATO.
Jo*, a 20-year-old British-born Ukranian, adds: “It’s so important to be able to stand with Ukraine to keep its culture alive. If Russia backs out of their hate-fuelled war, there will be no more war. But if Ukraine backs out, there will be no more Ukraine. The amount of support given by powerful western countries thus far is shameful, especially here with visas being cut off for Ukrainian citizens in comparison to other powers like Germany and Poland, who are accepting refugees with open arms and giving them a space to live and work where needed. The UK needs to do better.”
“The atmosphere has been hard, moments of dead silence between chants with an air of uncertainty breezing throughout, which leaves a bittersweet taste in your mouth of solidarity – but also fear. The Ukrainian communities here have been left on edge, with little to no knowledge on their true position of their family and friends in Ukraine and their hopeful descent to the borders.”
“Modern wars are fought with media narratives and leveraged misinformation. However implicated NATO is in allowing the war to escalate, global news coverage of crowds in support of Ukraine is strategically powerful. Not only does it pressure the Western governments and boost morale in Ukraine, but it encourages Russians to protest against their own regime, which is something that comes with great risk for them at the moment,” says Tosia, a Polish national based in London.
“In my experience, during political upheaval in Poland, Western news coverage has been instrumental in pressuring our own government, however unfair the double standard this reveals. Also, as a Polish immigrant in the UK, I know how much it means to be surrounded with strangers empathetic to your pain – there is solace in the crowd, there’s life,” she adds.
See the photos from the London protests in the gallery above, and read Dazed’s five actionable ways to support the people of Ukraine here.