Today, yet another protest rally in support of human rights and denouncing the recently adopted ‘dictatorship laws’ in Ukraine took place in London.
This meeting followed a series of protests that previously took place in different locations including the streets near the Ukrainian and Russian embassies, the Ukrainian Institute in London, and Parliament Square. Besides, Automaidan, a mobile protest involving 9 cars and up to 40 protesters, took place on 18 January for the first time in London.
Being increasingly concerned about the possibility of influencing the events in Ukraine, though, migrants have been trying to find different ways of drawing public attention to the crisis and supporting the protest. Since the end of 2013, a few times the protesters picketed the luxury flat of businessman Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine’s wealthiest oligarch, a financier and unofficial leader of the Party of Regions. They sought to bring to light his role in supporting the corrupt government in Ukraine, as well as hoped for him to exert his influence to change the course of events in the home country. Going to London Stock Exchange was another step in this direction: one of the key aims of the group was to stress the connection of another Ukrainian oligarch, Dmitry Firtash, with London’s financial world. Notably, Firtash was the first private businessman to open trading on London Stock Exchange on 17 October 2013, to mark the start of Days of Ukraine (or, as many Ukrainians ironically stated, ‘Days of Firtash in London’ – a three-day cultural festival organized by Firtash Foundation and sponsored by Firtash’s Group DF).
A recent article by Serhiy Leshchenko, describing a number of the oligarch’s partners in London and criticizing these connections, underlines that Firtash controls ten or more members of the Ukrainian parliament and is the sole supervisor of the broadcasting service ‘Inter’, thus adding support to Yanukovych’s regime. Leshchenko’s article, which straightforwardly calls for ‘giving Firtash a cold shower in London’, was probably instrumental in prompting tonight’s protest.
The rally started with traditional singing of the Ukrainian anthem. People holding posters and waving national flags faced the Stock Exchange. Some activists were trying to gather signatures in support of the Ukrainian case from the participants and the passers-by. A couple of activists gave small speeches announcing the reasons for the rally in English, using a loudspeaker. The rest of the speakers continued in Ukrainian. They underlined the extreme violence employed by Yanukovych’s regime in trying to suppress the protests, and tried to stress the need to draw the attention of European public, politicians and businessmen to the violations of human rights and dangerous situation in Ukraine.
‘Firtash – out!’, ‘Oligarchs – out!’, ‘Stop funding murder!’, ‘Impeach Yanukovych!’, ‘Gan’ba!’ (‘Shame’!) the protesters chanted. The final slogan ‘UK, help Ukraine!’ seemed to sum up both their despair and their hopes.
Security guards at the entrance of the Stock Exchange stood in a row, looking at the protesters with interest. Most of the passers-by turned their heads; quite a few took photos. Does it automatically make today’s rally a successful one? Not necessarily. However it is probably more effective than chanting in front of the embassies on weekends. What can we do from here, many migrants ask? Raising awareness is one of the key possible contributions. Western media may lack detail or not present the whole picture of the events happening abroad. Even if this is not the case, some additional effort is often required to make the information reach the potential audience. This is the effort that migrant protesters may be quite capable of.