On Sunday 2 March, hundreds protested in London against Russian military aggression in Ukraine.
A few hundred of Ukrainians and their supporters gathered in front of the US embassy at 12 pm on Sunday. The key message of the anti-war protesters was to stress the importance of the Budapest memorandum, and that the US is one of the guarantors of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and security.
At 2 pm, the rally continued near the Russian embassy. This was one of the largest demonstrations that the embassy has seen in the recent years, as well as probably one of the most emotionally charged. According to different estimates, there were from 500 to 700 people. Most of the protesters were Ukrainian, and the national flags were more numerous than ever; a few UPA flags were present too.
The recent rallies started to attract non-Ukrainians, as well. A noticeable number of Russian, Georgian, Polish and Lithuanian migrants came to support the protest and express their solidarity with the calls against Putin’s military aggression. A few Russian political activists were present: Andrey Sidelnikov, the head of ‘Govorite Gromche’ (‘Speak up’) activist group, with a few companions, and Pavel Stroilov, a Russian political refugee, who gave a small speech of support.
The protesters chanted the usual slogans: ‘Slava Ukraini! Heroyam Slava!’ (‘Glory to Ukraine! Glory to its heroes!’), ‘Slava natsii! Smert’ voroham!’ (Glory to the nation! Death to the enemies!’), ‘Ukraina ponad use!’ (‘Ukraine above all!’). Some of the slogans were reflecting the position towards the current situation in Crimea: ‘Stop war in Ukraine!’, ‘Skhid i Zakhid razom!’ (‘East and West [of Ukraine] together!’), ‘Krym tse Ukraina!’ (‘Crimea is Ukraine!’), ‘Ukraine united – will never be divided!’, ‘Za nashu i vashu hidnist’ ta svobodu! (‘For our freedom and dignity – and yours’), as well as anti-Putin chants: ‘Putin, hands off Ukraine!’, ‘Ukraine is not Russia!’. One of the protesters shouted ‘Putin – parasha, pobeda budet nasha!’ (‘Putin is crap, victory will be ours’) which was enthusiastically picked up by the crowd.
After a couple of hours, the majority of the group marched to the St Volodymyr’s statue next to the Ukrainian Institute at Holland Park. The monument has been serving as a commemoration point for the fallen heroes of the Maidan, with portraits of those who died in the clashes, fresh flowers and candles being brought and looked after by the members of the Ukrainian community. The protesters paid tribute to the fallen compatriots. Then, a group of singers sang some patriotic songs while the crowd joined in.
At the same time, a few other protesters, including Andrey Sidelnikov and his colleagues from ‘Govorite Gromche’ went to Trafalgar Square, where the Russian (state-funded) cultural festival ‘Maslenitsa’ was taking place and where some of the supporters of the Ukrainian independence and territorial integrity have already gathered.
This was, in fact, preceded by at least a week-long discussions and arguments in Facebook, where the supporters of Ukraine suggested to go to the square with Ukrainian flags while some of their (mostly Russian) opponents claimed that Ukrainian independence is not a serious enough reason to ‘spoil people’s fun’. The risks of going to the Russian festival with Ukrainian flags were clear: first, even the most peaceful action was deemed highly likely to be perceived and interpreted by the Russians and the pro-Russian media as a provocation, which would not have been helpful for the relations between countries. Secondly, the more prosaic risk of an open confrontation with some probably inebriated and aggressive opponents was taken into account. However, especially after the events in Crimea started to unfold, a number of people decided to go.
These photos show the event, a few protesters, and even grasp a clash that apparently took place. Andrey Sidelnikov also writes: ‘when we unfolded the Ukrainian flag in the middle of the square, we were immediately called fascists and Banderovites; then, when they learned we were Russian we were traitors paid by the US Department of State. Some particularly drunk comrades promised to put a bullet in my head personally…’
Finally, in the evening a number of protesters moved to the Prime Minister’s Office at 10 Downing Street, and started a 24/7 protest demanding for actions against the Russian aggression.
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