Ukrainians protest at Downing Street gates over Russian invasion | Ukraine

Hundreds of Ukrainians, many clad in their national colors of yellow and blue, have gathered outside the gates of Downing Street in London to protest against Russia’s invasion of their country.

While shock, anger and defiance were among the common sentiments, events in the early hours of Thursday morning had also heralded difficult personal dilemmas for many, such as Aleksandra Legosteva, a tech worker, and her mother, Olena, who had come to visit on Saturday.

“I do not want her to go back,” said Legosteva, who told of a largely sleepless night as the family monitored Russia’s invasion and worried about relatives in northern Ukraine who were stockpiling food and other supplies.

Like others, she was eager for the UK government to impose “sweeping sanctions” on Russia, while calls for military assistance and British military boots on the grounds were a common refrain among the crowd.

Yuriy Yurchuk, 35, a principal singer at the Royal Opera House, said he had been due to perform at Moscow’s Bolshoi theater in two weeks’ time but that would not happen now.

“There’s still a place for talking but there should be a comprehensive response to what is happening in Ukraine, including a military one and also international condemnation. Otherwise what is the UN for? ” added Yurchuk.

Ukrainians demonstrate outside Downing Street in London. Photograph: Andy Hall / The Observer

Ukrainian flags, large and small, were scattered throughout the crowd, along with homemade placards variously condemning Vladimir Putin as a war criminal or drawing a link between his regime and that of the Soviet Union.

The bishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of the Holy Family of London, the Right Rev Kenneth Nowakowski, was among those who had gathered in London.

“I do not want to criticize the British government because we’re grateful for what they’ve done so far but there is so much more that can and should be done now,” he said.

“It’s also worth remembering that this is a war that has been going on for eight years now. The rest of the world is now waking up to it and the fact that Putin may not just stop at Ukraine. ”

Ukrainians protest in London against the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Ukrainians protest in London against the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Photograph: Andy Hall / The Observer

While those gathered were almost entirely Ukrainian, a small group of young Russians working in sectors ranging from IT to fashion were also present, though they declined to give their names – such were their concerns at the consequences of speaking out against Putin.

“I literally could not look at my colleagues in the eye this morning,” said one woman, who spoke of a feeling of shame.

Away from the protests, other Ukrainians in Britain expressed their shock and anger as they struggled to maintain contact with family and friends fleeing from or sheltering in areas under bombardment.

Members of the diaspora described their fear on hearing from relatives in Ukraine that their home towns had been bombed in Russian airstrikes.

Tetyana Vovnyanko, who lives in London, said close family who live near the city of Uman, between Kyiv and Odesa, have sought safety in the countryside.

“I listened this morning to the news that there were airstrikes and a shell landed in the middle of the town center and a few people were killed,” she said, adding that her nephew and his family in Kyiv had also moved to the countryside.

Vovnyanko, co-founder of British-Ukrainian Aid, which supports people suffering from the armed conflict and humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, added: “I’m extremely worried because initially we thought the attacks would be mostly towards the eastern part of Ukraine, along the frontline. And we thought that possibly there will be airstrikes on Kyiv, as American intelligence services said.

Why has Putin's Russia waged war on Ukraine?  - video explainer
Why has Putin’s Russia waged war on Ukraine? – video explainer

“But today we realized that all Ukraine, even relatively distant towns from the frontline, are affected. I had a brief exchange with my PhD supervisor who is living in Odesa. There were airstrikes there and she’s very scared about her life. ”

Olesya Khromeychuk, director of cultural center the Ukrainian Institute London, said she spent the night anxiously following reports of Russian attacks across Ukraine.

“As we were anticipating, this is all over Ukraine,” she said. “I hear of explosions in my home town Lviv, near the Polish border, which was considered the safest place in Ukraine.”

The historian said many of her friends and relatives were trying to get their parents to safety. “None of my friends have left Kyiv yet, although some are trying to get their parents out. Others were in bomb shelters. But people from Berdyansk and Zaporizhia, in the south-east, are trying to leave because it’s been bombed heavily and it’s extremely dangerous to be there. ”

Petro Kormylo, archivist for the Edinburgh branch of the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain, said his relatives in north-eastern Ukraine had reported skirmishes with invading Russian forces.

Kormylo, 71, from Dumfries, said two of his relatives had recently joined the territorial defense force, set up by the Ukraine government in January to help the armed forces resist a Russian invasion.

“I think on a paramilitary level or partisan level, you’re going to find Ukrainians fighting in skirmishes everywhere. If you can think back to Northern Ireland, it’s going to be 50 times worse than that. ”

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