Vigil for Ukraine: Exeter

Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw addresses the crowd Photos by Alex Pilkington

A large crowd gathered in Exeter’s Bedford Square to attend a pro-Ukraine vigil organised by Exeter City Council’s leader, Phil Bialyk. Phil has family in the Ukraine and during the course of his speech he spoke to his brother in Ukraine. Although we could not catch his words, that was one of many heart-rendingly emotional moments in the ‘event’.

Exeter’s Labour MP, Ben Bradshaw, spoke powerfully and movingly about the invasion, calling for an end to the government’s mean-spirited immigration policy and for urgent action to shut down the London ‘laundromat’ for dirty Russian money.

We spoke to Ben after the period of quiet, intense reflection which followed the speeches.

We also interviewed Ukrainians Dr Iryna Labunska, a senior research scientist and her husband, Victor. The couple are extremely worried about family in Kyiv and visibly distraught.

Iryina introduced me to Russian friends who are horrified by the action of their government. They were unwilling to give an interview on the record because they still have family in Russia and they fear repercussions. That in itself is quite something, isn’t it? This is what it means to live under a tyrannical and repressive regime whose tentacles of power reach beyond its own borders.

Dr Andrej Shytov, senior lecturer in Physics, is from Crimea, originally, but studied in Kyiv. Andrej is concerned that Putin will now do anything to win and will not stop with Ukraine…

Anton is a student at the university. He, too, has family back in Ukraine. I asked him about the president, Volodomir Zelenskyy:

Please write to your MP and urge them to support the dropping of visa requirements for asylum seekers from Ukraine. The EU have secured unanimous agreement on the admittance of Ukrainian refugees for three years without a visa application. This puts us to shame.

The Policing Bill comes back to parliament on Monday 28 February and the Lords’ amendments striking out the ugly measures to suppress peaceful protest (amongst other things) will be voted on by MPs. It is sobering to think that if these amendments are rejected, we could be entering an era in which, here in the UK, demonstrations and protests are crushed and protestors arrested just as they are, right now, in Russia.