In the last three weeks, following the social upheaval in Ukraine, Ukrainians in London have been very active in expressing their discontent with Yanukovych’s recent political decisions and suppression of the protests in Kyiv. Migrants voice their support and solidarity with compatriots, and on a daily basis participate in rallies held in front of organisations including the Ukrainian Institute in London, Ukrainian and Russian embassies, and the UK Parliament.
In addition to the high levels of social mobilization of the protesters and the important role of the social media in organisation and coordination of activities, there’s a couple of other things that are worth mentioning regarding the implementation of these migrant protest activities and civic engagement.
First, it is noticeable that the representation of different social groups of migrants is quite diverse. In particular, apart from the usual middle-class audience, students and cultural/educational/political activists (that we were used to seeing during the relatively brief active phase of Russian migrant rallies that took place in London in 2010-2012), there are significant numbers of Ukrainians from lower social layers. What is quite inspiring, people in so-called precarious jobs and illegal migrants are not just present; they join the protests and actively voice their position. In the audience in general, there is an acknowledgement of significant numbers of labour migrants amongst the Ukrainian population of London, and this acknowledgement is paired with the recognition of this group as an active part of the national community.
Secondly, there is a strong transnational component to the protests. And this is not only about the regularity with which the Ukrainians watch the news or gather for a rally; it is also about the more practical ways of trying to support people back home. The speakers at the meetings were constantly encouraging the migrants to contact relatives back home and encourage civic activism amongst them. There’s a material aspect of cross-border support, too: last week, a few activists at the Ukrainian club were collecting things and money to send to the Maidan in Kyiv. Some people went to Ukraine with suitcases full of these donations. And in terms of financial support – they’ve gathered over £3,000 (that was the figure I last heard when leaving the club last Thursday evening). Mind you, this is almost double the amount of £1,600 collected by more affluent Russian visitors at Russian Ball in London to support the Life-Line charity on 2 Dec. Civic engagement was also about making advantage of being in London and writing letters to local MPs drawing attention to the situation in Ukraine. And finally, the transnational component involves the aspect of cultural politics, embodied in the national symbolism of the protests. There were Ukrainian flags everywhere, and the audience was regularly singing national patriotic songs, while the most popular one was the Ukrainian anthem. I’m struggling to remember a few Russian flags at some of the Russian protests; I can hardly picture Russian migrants singing their national anthem.
There were things that looked slightly ethically dubious to me, of course. Among those were the presence of red and black flag of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army: or one of the speakers making parallels between the current protests and the activities of Bandera and Shukhevych and calling to be inspired by the latter two (although references to OUN-UPA can hardly relate to basic principles and values of the EU); or the other one mentioning the armed forces that were drawn from the Crimea to Kyiv to ‘suppress the protest of the Ukrainians’, as if Crimea is not Ukraine. However, as a migration researcher I believe I am witnessing a great example of migrant civic participation: well mobilized, organised and coordinated by the social media and networks, socially diverse and actively transnational.
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