February 28, 2022, the fifth day of the Russian Armed Forces offensive ordered by Vladimir Putin against the Republic of Ukraine.
Media coverage of fights and negotiation attempts is prolix. Whether it is due to experienced journalists or one-day reporters who grab a mobile phone, the images flood in and take over our screens. If we have become accustomed to seeing War Correspondents, wearing helmets and bulletproof vests, at the heart of armed conflicts, it is a new genre, that of the image in the service of the image, bringing each of us closer to the battles.
Is too much information killing information? It is certain that faced with the multitude of sources, some raw and without context, others bordering on theatricalization and clearly staged, it is crucial to take the necessary distance to analyse the situation, to comprehend the elements that it is possible to apprehend clearly, to define the needs.
It is in this context that His Excellency Kenneth Nowakowski, Archbishop of Ukrainian, Belarusian and Slovak Eastern Catholics in the United Kingdom, and Iryna Terletska, President of the Ukrainian Women’s Organization in the United Kingdom, agreed to meet journalists and representatives of the foreign press in London on this last day of February, to address the news of people plunged into war against their will, people united to protect their country but who are calling for help from the International community.
Fighting for Peace and Democracy
If the Russian president had imagined he could seize Ukraine like Crimea eight years ago, it was without counting on the determination and resilience of the Ukrainian people to defend their territory, and on the material support of European countries and the Western world.
The negotiating table set up today did not come to fruition due to Vladimir Putin’s demands, and the Russian bombardments have redoubled, now targeting residential areas of the cities on the front line. There are those who were able to flee at the start of the Russian invasion and those who are now being evacuated, in particular women and children. There are those who are trapped by the bombardments and take refuge in improvised shelters such as cellars and metro lines. There are still those who take up arms or make their own.
By all accounts, the situation is getting worse, both physically and in the talks.
Russia’s declaration of war is the work of one man, one man alone, Vladimir Putin. Aged almost 70, he has been at the head of the largest country in the world since 1999, bringing together an estimated population of 144 million inhabitants but posting in 2020 a GDP lower than that of Spain despite its position on the international stage.
Between a pandemic that paralyzed humanity for nearly two years and the climate emergency that seems to be on all agendas on the international scene, the international community is baffled by the autocrat ‘s belligerent choice and nuclear threat he now seems to be brandishing.
We thought of war as a state that now belonged to the past, being only the result of a few developing countries or of a fight against religious extremists.
This act of war, which destabilises a humanity that thought itself united in the face of the urgent problems of a planet in peril through his fault, is the act of a single man, feared by those around him, who has nothing to lose but face. This fact is certainly the very sticking point of all talks. The coalition, which was difficult to form due to divergent interests, political calendars and energy dependence, does not have the same freedom of movement and decision-making. The implementation of coercive measures takes time, too much time. And clearly these are not enough to curb the vindictiveness of the Russian dictator.
What did Sun Tzu say in its The Art of War? Vladimir Putin now seems to have mastered certain principles, from deception to knowing the weaknesses of those who stand up to him. The biggest? Probably that of thinking he won’t dare…
When asked the question of whether the response of Westerners is adequate, Iryna Terletska answers that Ukrainian people can only be grateful for the support given to them by Western countries, but it is the lack of proactivity of these same countries that has led to the current situation. Ukraine has suffered intimidation attempts from its Russian neighbour for many years. In February 2014, the annexation of Crimea by Russia was a strong alarm signal, and Western countries should have intervened then. Their lack of responsiveness clearly confirmed Vladimir Putin in his rights as a despot in need of recognition and paved the way for his dream of a revieved Greater Russia.
Iryna Terletska adds that she is particularly moved by the expressions of solidarity expressed from the first day of the Russian invasion. The Ukrainian people have a great need for help because they are standing alone against the Russian bear. “The Ukrainian people are fighting today for the right to peace and democracy, their right but also that of everyone!”
But beyond the support shown, it is concrete and precise help that is required.
Defining and channelling aid
The conference given to the representatives of the foreign press is held within the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of London, in the district of Mayfair, built between 1889 and 1891 according to the plans of the architect Alfred Waterhouse who also designed the Museum of Natural History of the British capital. The place is iconic.
Archbishop Kenneth Nowakowski reports the incredible attendance at the masses held this weekend and recalls that the Ukrainian people are fundamentally religious people. More than 80% of the population declares to have a religion. This religious attachment is all the more important since it was reprimanded for several decades, between the end of the Second World War and 1989 when Ukraine was under the yoke of the Soviet Union, and therefore fed underground resistance and has remained strong in the lessons learned from this past.
The mobilization of Ukrainians in the UK is incredibly vigorous. How many are there today? A handful compared to other communities, since official figures list 35,000 Ukrainians living on British territory. However, this is without counting those who fled Soviet oppression and took the nationality of the host country. To the question of number, the answer is a hundred thousand. But all have risen to help those who are back home, in Ukraine, providing material, financial but also human help.
The Archbishop, if he cannot encourage a military engagement, says he has granted his blessing at the request of young women and men, mostly in their thirties, who have chosen to go to Ukraine to participate in the war effort . The approach is individual, can only be in accordance with the conscience of the individual, insists Iryna Terletska.
In Ukraine, territorial defence units were created, mostly made up of light infantry. They will carry out auxiliary missions behind the lines of the regular army. According to the armed forces, it is a fully-fledged military organization rather than a paramilitary organization, made up of volunteers aged between 18 and 60, with little or no experience in armed combat. As for the question of a possible military engagement on the part of foreigners, the answer is now clear: they are welcome. Who are they here in the UK? It seems that at the moment the volunteers are mainly of British, Polish, Hungarian, Iranian origin and for some ex-military.
The civil mobilization is not less. Beyond the messages of support, the influx of donations testifies of the solidarity with the Ukrainians. The Archbishop had gone that same morning to a sorting centre organized by the Polish community. Footage broadcast by the BBC showed heaps of clothes, linens, essentials and toys being brought in, expertly sorted by volunteers and bagged ready to be transported overland to the countries hosting the refugees.
Iryna Terletska reminds us that these donations are absolutely necessary, but must be respectful – refugees need blankets, but clean and ideally new blankets. And so it is with everything else, and also with financial donations. The needs in the field of hygiene and medicine are very important, but they must be channelled. Giving a box of paracetamol is certainly a nice gesture, but making a financial donation is more useful because it will help buy what is needed and in bulk, including paracetamol. As of February 28, an estimated £800,000 have been donated in cash. They are all the more necessary as they thus make it possible to finance the logistics of delivering donations but also to support non-governmental organizations such as the Red Cross or the French charity association AICM Ukraine https://aicm.eu/ Fr/.
Help must also come from politics. Boris Johnson addressed parishioners at the Cathedral during Mass on Sunday, and promised the UK would do “everything it can to help economically, politically, diplomatically, militarily”. However, it is the question of visas that is burning everyone’s lips. Priti Patel, Home Secretary, says she wants to make it easier for Ukrainians to come to Britain. On the one hand, Ukrainians currently visiting the United Kingdom will have their visa temporarily extended. On the other hand, those who do not meet the usual eligibility criteria for the allocation of a visa but pass the security checks and who have family members who are British nationals or who have obtained Settled Status will be able to come to the United Kingdom for 12 months. But in reality, nothing is that simple, and many Ukrainians settled in the United Kingdom say that they cannot bring their parents, that the visa system is jammed.
Iryna Terletska insists on the need for pressure from the population in general, on the British government too, which promises but remains cautious in action, and is already brandishing the spectre of a possible wave of refugees and the infiltration of pro-Putin Russians among the displaced. Iryna Terletska argues that the question of economic and financial constraints is clearly not addressed in its entirety since the assets of the Russian oligarchs, so far silent and not opposing verbally the action of President Putin, are frozen but remain in fact inaccessible.
Archbishop Kenneth Nowakowski and Iryna Terletska, representatives of the Ukrainian community in the United Kingdom, hope through this conference granted to the foreign press to reach as many people as possible, and to use what is called soft power to activate unity against not the Russians but an irrelevant man, and force the return of peace and democracy.