On 22 February, Ukrainian, Syrian and Russian protesters rallied in front of the Russian embassy in London.
Up to 200 people gathered in front of the Russian embassy, protesting against Russia’s support of undemocratic and authoritarian governments. A large group of Ukrainians was joined by Syrians, both waving their national flags, holding posters with images of atrocities happening in their respective countries, and chanting: ‘Free, free Syria! Free, free Ukraine! Putin, Putin, shame on you! Hands off Ukraine!’ etc. A Syrian protester with a loudspeaker was setting the pace.
The protest was also joined by a small number of Russians from ‘Govorite Gromche’ (Speak Up), a pro-democracy group of activists who have been rallying in London for over three years in support of human rights and freedoms and against the corrupt government in Russia.
The Russian protest was announced as an action of solidarity with prisoners of Bolotnaya as well as paying tribute to the memory of fallen heroes of Ukraine. The group took out a couple of small posters and stood rather quietly behind the Ukrainians. The leader of the group, Andrey Sidelnikov, says he has previously attended a few Ukrainian demonstrations which have been taking place regularly in the last three months. However, he was one of the extremely few Russian nationals who paid attention to these events. ‘Russians don’t even come to our [‘Govorite Gromche’’s] rallies anymore,’ admits Sidelnikov. Indeed, the general public interest in political activism among Russian migrants which has been a common thing for London even less than two years ago, has almost faded away.
The cars driving past the protesters honked in support, however one of the drivers slowed down just to show the middle finger to the crowd. ‘He has Russian number plates, idiot – with characters like 777 RUS’, notes one of the Ukrainians: ‘He doesn’t know that in this country, your identity can be tracked down. He’d better save money, for he might need to buy medications very soon’.
Finally, the long-awaited good news arrived. Reading from a tablet, one of the protesters announced: Verkhovna Rada voted overwhelmingly to impeach Yanukovych, early presidential elections are set for May 25th. The crowd broke into applause and cheering. Soon, they headed to the Ukrainian embassy.
Later that day, at the Maidan in Kyiv, one of the opposition leaders Yuriy Lutsenko, whilst acknowledging the contribution of different groups to the eventual success of the revolution, speaking from the stage in front of the crowds, expressed gratitude to the Ukrainian diaspora. He mentioned that the support of the diasporic communities around the world was helpful for the Maidan, and stressed: Ukraine is strong partly because it has a diaspora that its Northern neighbour (i.e. Russia) does not have.
The word diaspora may have quite a few definitions now. However, in London in particular, the Ukrainian community – particularly its politically active part – even though being not completely free from some inner tensions and disagreements, proved to have a few differences from the Russian activist groups. Of course, the Russian rigged elections and the mass protests that followed them, involving the Russian migrants in London, are not quite the same kind of a political event as the Euromaidan. Still, the distinctive features of the Ukrainian migrants’ protest activities include, first of all, the strength of the national symbols and ideas of a national community in general as unifying the protesters; the social diversity of active participants of the rallies and representation of various social layers; the regularity and persistence of protest activities that aimed at different targets, from oligarchs to ambassadors, from general public to the MPs, from compatriots to the British audience; and the strong transnational connections that have been sustained between London and Ukraine, based upon material and financial remittances, moral support and expressions of solidarity.
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