London Stands with Ukraine - March 2022 🌻
It's not every day you see Oscar-winning Emma Thompson on stage, followed by the Crouch End choir and Mayor of Kiev, Vitali Klitschko. But this wasn't a normal day. It was the 26th of March, 2022. The day London transformed itself into a yellow and blue vessel for communication. The day tens of thousands of ordinary people demanded peace. The day London roared.
Here are my thoughts and memories of London's Stand with Ukraine protest, organised by Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.
"Come to your squares and streets. Make yourself visible and heard"
“Come with Ukrainian symbols to support Ukraine, to support freedom, to support life,” said Volodymyr Zelenskyy, President of Ukraine.“Come to your squares, to your streets. Make yourselves visible and heard.”
One man who listened was Mayor of London and all-round legend, Sadiq Khan. Khan organised an epic rally and invited everyone to attend the march from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square.
The protest began at 2pm outside Hyde Park. Painting our faces with yellow and blue eyeshadow as we walked, my sister Holly and I hurried to join the crowd. Hols had travelled quite some way, bless her. And like all real students she had the drowsy air of someone with less than five hours sleep and one hell of a hangover. Having worked until 2am on a whitepaper, I wasn't much better. What a pair!
Among the sea of bright yellows and dazzling blues, we managed to wrangle two mini-flags and waited around. The mood of the crowd was uncertain. For the most part it was quiet. Sombre. Gentle murmurings in many languages. A ripple of hushed conversations. The occasional outburst. "SLAVA UKRAINI!" or "Putin is a terrorist!", followed by a painfully British pause and polite smattering of applause. Sometimes the UK is so awkward.
The only constant sound was the relentless beating of two helicopters, as news outlets began circling to get a better shot. The mood was reflective. Many people lost in many thoughts. I wondered if anyone else was thinking about the planes that fly over civilians in Ukraine, bombing homes and livelihoods. I was. And I noticed the "No Fly Zone" placards were raised a little higher.
What the pre-protest lacked in noise and commotion, it made up for in visuals. Bold and bright sunflowers adorned women, pets and children. Painted signs so cutting, they continued to slash though my mind long after the march ended. Traditional clothes dotted here and there, flooded in an unmissable sea of yellow and blue.
The march begins!
If anyone was wondering what took us so long to get going, it soon became clear. Firstly, the sheer volume of people was incredible. Tens of thousands strong, filling the parks, roads and pavements of central London. And secondly? The roads were closing! Blocked by police vans and men in neon jackets, London was transforming into a blue and yellow pedestrian zone.
If you tried to amble down the centre of Piccadilly's famously swanky Park Lane shouting about an end to war on a normal day, you'd surely be sectioned. But today, London was ours. Well... it was Ukraine's.
As poor Hols soon discovered, I have a shout that really carries. I can hold my own in a crowd of protesters. Together, we bellowed our way (well, I did) down to the iconic Piccadilly Circus. We waved our flags and shouted for peace. When we got there, I took a moment to climb the fountain like a tourist. The sight was incredible. An ocean of blue and yellow. I'd thought Holly and I were at the back of the march. But it went on and on and on as far as the eye could see. Tears misted my eyes.
A truly meaningful moment that got me hard was listening to three women sing in Ukrainian. Just those three soft harmonised voices among the stomps of walkers, chatter and chants left a mark on my soul.
Something else I loved was hearing the kids protest. With tiny flags, outstretched arms and little chipmunk voices they yelled for peace. While it was heart-warming, the scene was also tinged with sadness. A bitter reminder of the thousands of displaced, injured or dead children that scatter Ukraine at the hands of Vladimir Putin.
Reaching the stage
Piling forwards, we passed the embassies and surged onto Trafalgar Square. There were already thousands there, and thousands more to follow. The talks had already begun by the time our section of the march arrived. The protest was HUGE.
My voice was pretty tired after an hour of shouting and "woooooooooooo!!!!!!!-ing". But no matter if I lost the ability to talk the next day (which could have made my interview awkward!) nothing was going to stop me whooping and cheering.
Listening to the speakers, I had a range of reactions and emotions. Here is where I personally stand:
I don't want anyone to die. Not innocent civilians. Not clueless Russian soldiers. Nobody. I just want the war to end.
This is not Russia's war. It is Putin's war.
I hate Priti Patel's STUPID UK refugee policy. Even the sponsorship scheme doesn't work. We have put a psychopath in charge of our immigration.
I don't think the UK has done enough to meaningfully help. And it makes me feel really sick and green-washed when politicians say that we have.
I don't like it when countries like the UK provide loads of weapons but no real sanctuary for refugees.
So, I felt a bit all over the shop with some of the speeches. I'm not going to cheer for politicians or leaders who say that Ukraine is "soooo grateful to the UK" because it's disgustingly self-inflating. 🤢 It's weird.
Nor am I going to shout and whoop for people who say that we are "shoulder to shoulder" with Ukraine. Because we're not. They are fighting for their lives in the street. We are waving flags in the sunshine in Trafalgar Square. How are we "shoulder to shoulder"? We have no idea what it's like.
Very few speeches had everyone clapping or cheering. I think that's because nobody knows the right thing to do. None of us have the perfect strategy. Some people are very pro-aggression. Others are pushing for more diplomacy. Nobody has the right answer. And we don't always agree with each other.
But one thing is for certain. We all want peace. We all want Putin to stop dropping bombs. To stop killing people. To stop hurting people. (Including his own men). To order his troops the f*** back. Those were the moments that inspired deafening cheers of support from everyone.
"Ukraine will win"
Occasionally, the crowd broke away from the speakers. A group of men behind me began shouting, "Ukraine will win! Ukraine will win! Ukraine will win!". And it swept up Trafalgar Square in a steady frenzy of chanting. Me included.
I believe with all my heart that Ukraine will win... Have you ever encountered such tough and resilient people? And I believe that ordinary Russians are among the best positioned to help them.
Some of my best friends are Russian and they are incredibly kind, brave and truth-seeking people. As President Zelenskyy himself said, we all have a part to play. We all need to help break the truth through the Russian state propaganda. That includes bloggers like me too.
There are 12 people in Russia who read this blog. If one of you is reading now, Putin did start the war in Ukraine. But perhaps you can help to end it.