The Glasgow Guardian spoke to dozens of demonstrators at anti-war rallies in Glasgow and Edinburgh last weekend.
Hundreds of protesters gathered in front of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh and George Square in Glasgow last weekend to protest against Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine. In the early morning of Thursday 24 February 2022, the Russian military launched a full-scale invasion, which has sparked profound international outrage and large anti-war demonstrations in Russia and around the world. According to the Ukrainian emergency services, over 350 civilians have been killed by Russian forces in Ukraine, including children, and more than 1 million refugees have fled.
The demonstrations were characterised by a poignant outpouring of emotion, as the majority of demonstrators had personal connections to Eastern Europe. One of the rally organisers in front of the Scottish Parliament recalled how she received a text message from a close friend last Thursday, which read: ‘Russian military is bombing my city. I love you so much, be brave.’ At the Glasgow protest, Alyona, who is a committee member of the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain, told The Glasgow Guardian that “I can’t express how proud I am to be Ukrainian” and spoke about the profound sense of helplessness she feels. Alyona tearfully said: “I just ate one Big Mac a few days ago and that’s all that I ate. I slept three hours for all of these four days. I’m shaking all the time, I’m crying all the time – but that is nothing in comparison … to what my family in Ukraine feels.” In light of the war raging in her home country, she feels unsure whether she will be able to continue her higher education in Scotland.
“I just ate one Big Mac a few days ago and that’s all that I ate. I slept 3 hours for all of these four days. I’m shaking all the time, I’m crying all the time – but that is nothing in comparison … to what my family in Ukraine feels.”
In Edinburgh, Marjan, who was born in Kyiv and moved to Scotland as a child, told The Glasgow Guardian that he feels “stressed, angry, frustrated, hungry, and tired”, because “it feels wrong to eat, it feels wrong to rest.” As he held up a printed photograph of a residential tower block in Ukraine’s capital hit by a missile strike that morning, Marjan remarked that “Putin has not just declared war on Ukraine, but on the whole world … If you don’t want World War 3, you need to support the Ukrainian military”. The following day in Glasgow, Ukrainian doctor Vlad confided that his brother, who stayed in Kyiv to care for his 90 year-old mother-in-law, was sheltering right next to the residential building when it was hit.
The diverse crowd in Edinburgh chanted “Please help Ukraine” and “Слава Україні! Героям слава!” (translated: “Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the heroes!”). In Glasgow, a Ukrainian opera singer performed her country’s national anthem, which moved a number of protesters to tears. In addition to demanding harsher sanctions against Putin and for Russia to be excluded from the Swift global payments network, protesters urged the UK Government to waive visa requirements for Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war. As a result of the Home Office’s controversial Nationality and Borders bill, it is particularly difficult for refugees to seek asylum in the UK and “they could be treated as second tier refugees, or even as criminals, because they would be arriving via irregular routes”.
“Protesters urged the UK Government to waive visa requirements for Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war.”
A Polish speaker in Edinburgh called on the wider implications of Russian military aggression, and suggested that “people here in Scotland, they feel safe for now. Not for long – Putin will come here too”. This sense of anxiety regarding potential nuclear war was echoed by a large number of protesters, as one woman declared “I still don’t know who will survive”.
A key difference amongst demonstrators was the extent to which they appealed for Western support, as some demanded NATO to send troops to Ukraine, while others remained cautious of a Western military intervention, citing concerns for global security.
Valerie, a fourth-year University of Glasgow student from Ukraine told The Glasgow Guardian that rallies, such as those in Edinburgh and Glasgow, help boost morale at home and urged Western countries to protect the Ukrainian sky from missile attacks. A Russian Studies student at the University of Edinburgh added that “while we as individuals probably can’t do much, we can pressure the organisation that we are part of to take direct action” and encouraged fellow students to pressure our universities to act in support of Ukraine. They also highlighted students’ responsibility to raise awareness, read reliable news sources, write to their MPs, and take to the streets.
In Edinburgh, a woman from Russia took to the megaphone to announce “I am so sorry, Ukraine”, and broke into tears as she embraced a Ukrainian protester. Numerous individuals told The Glasgow Guardian that they believe supporting and strengthening resistance voices within Russia are “our only hope” for stopping Putin’s military expansion. As the only politician present at the two rallies, Ash Regan, MSP for Edinburgh Eastern (SNP) told the crowd: “What Putin has done … is an absolute outrage. He has violated international law and he needs to be stopped. In my opinion, the UK government has been too slow to act, they have not done enough, and there is much, much more that they should be doing.”
Dr. Jamie Rann, a Russian lecturer at the University of Glasgow, declared: “I feel such love and respect for the people of Ukraine and the bravery they are showing.” When asked whether he has a message of support to Eastern European students, he said that “I struggle, because what good can words do when people’s brothers, fathers, cousins are fighting and mothers, sisters are fleeing. Words feel empty and worthless.” In addition to asserting that refugees are welcome in Europe, UofG researcher Pablo from Spain, told The Glasgow Guardian: “I cannot quite believe that this is happening so close to us. I also feel a bit hypocritical because it has happened before in other parts of the world, and I’ve done nothing, I feel more compelled to come [to protest] if it’s a neighbouring country that’s suffering”.
Lastly, Alena Ivanova, who is from Bulgaria and lives in Glasgow, remarked: “This is a moment to learn to treat all victims of war equally. I hope this [mobilisation of support] continues and I hope it is extended to other people who suffer from war, because we can’t pick and choose.”
Help Ukraine Emergency Appeal, organised by the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain, is raising money for Ukrainians. For information regarding anti-war protests in Glasgow, visit the Community of Ukrainians in Glasgow Facebook page here. The Facebook page of the University of Glasgow Ukrainian Society can be accessed here.