Cornwall stands with Ukraine

Speech made at the Vigil for Ukraine outside Truro Cathedral on 27 February.

Thank you all so much for coming here today to express your solidarity with the people of Ukraine.

These are very dark times for Europe and for the whole world. We’re seeing a peaceful, democratic nation under violent attack by a fascistic dictator, simply because its people have dared to uphold their identity and sovereignty as a nation, their right to an independent foreign policy, and because they want to join the family of sovereign nations that is the European Union – the family that we in the UK used to belong to.

The Ukrainians are fighting with incredible courage against Putin’s massive and heavily armed forces. These have already committed war crimes in Ukraine, attacking hospitals and residential areas with bombs and cluster munitions. There’s every likelihood that we will see much worse in the next few days.

Putin’s regime already has a long and bloody history of atrocities against civilian populations, in Chechnya, Georgia, Syria and elsewhere. He’s said to be enraged that the resistance against his unprovoked invasion has been much stronger than he bargained for.

It’s easy to think that there is nothing ordinary people in the UK can do to help Ukrainians in their hour of need. But as President Zelensky and other Ukrainian leaders are saying, there is a lot that we can do.

We can donate to the Red Cross or UNICEF emergency appeals, or to the Help Ukraine Emergency Appeal, which was set up by Ukrainians in the UK a few days ago and has already raised more than £800,000 for urgently needed medical supplies and other necessities.

We can pressure our political representatives to impose tougher sanctions on Putin and his corrupt oligarchs. Many of these oligarchs have huge amounts of money in UK property and other assets, and have been using London to launder the loot they’ve stolen from the Russian people.

And perhaps most importantly of all, we can urge our government to immediately offer a safe haven to refugees fleeing the violence in Ukraine. It’s been deeply moving to see how the people of Romania and Poland have been welcoming these people with open arms, giving them the support they need when they arrive over their borders. This is what European solidarity means.

But the flood of refugees is growing by the day, and it’s shameful that our own government is not also waiving visa requirements for these people, and instead telling them that they must apply for visas as seasonal workers. We’re a better and more generous country than that, or we should be.

Finally, a few words about Cornwall for Europe, which has organised this event, and about why we felt it so important to do this.

As Cornwall for Europe, our aim is uphold fundamental European values of peace, freedom, human rights and democracy, and to work for a close and positive relationship with our European friends and neighbours.

It’s exactly those values that are now under violent attack in Ukraine, and which the people of Ukraine are fighting so bravely to defend.

As fellow Europeans, we felt we had to do something here in Cornwall to show that these people are in our thoughts, and that we absolutely support their right to live in peace and freedom.

So thank you again for coming here today, in such large numbers, to show that Cornwall stands with Ukraine.