Every day that passes in the Ukraine conflict, more horrors meet our gaze and we try to analyse why such brutality is being perpetrated against the people of Ukraine. It is clear that Mr. Putin has breached international law through his targeting of civilians and is also struggling to meet his military objectives. The world is increasingly turning its back on the Russian regime while their energy is focused on supporting the tireless efforts of President Zelensky and the Ukrainian people.
Now that 3 million people have fled Ukraine and 2 million more are displaced, it is clear that the refugee crisis will only grow as more people seek sanctuary. Poland’s efforts have shown the world what a ‘warm welcome’ really means as 2 million have crossed its borders, and Moldova with a population of just 2.5m has also displayed such generosity. I am proud of what our European neighbours are doing to support refugees and how they are determined to contrast their kindness with the cruelty that has caused them to flee.
I wish the same could be said about the UK. First just allowing refugees to arrive in the UK if they had a family connection and their full visa and paperwork, as I said recently, as if they were coming on their holidays, but also inviting people to apply for a fruit picking job. It is such a disgrace. However Government have been shamed into doing more. As people were waiting over a week for an appointment to process a visa, after filling in a 50 page form and support this with documents they simply did not retrieve as they fled, Government are now allowing people arriving under the family scheme to do so with an electronic approval and a full passport. However this still leaves so many having to book into visa offices which only open part time, or simply do not exist, and are in many different cities away from where the refugees are.
With great fanfare, Government also announced its Home for Ukraine scheme, which allows people, with a full visa approved, into the UK with no family connection, providing they are able to identify a family to stay with. Again this is a ridiculous prospect, not least as UK residents are only meant to offer accommodation to people that they have prior knowledge of. I have proposed an alternative and written to the Home Secretary about this, and raised it in Parliament. No visas. Just let people come to reception points in the UK where they can collect documentation and be allocated matching families to be placed with. This would be the easiest and simplest way of enabling people to be homed here. It is, of course, essential that we know where people are, so that provision can be made, and for hosting families to have safeguarding checks, as the only people who can travel out of Ukraine are women and children and older people.
York is preparing to give people a warm welcome, and families wanting to offer up their home should sign onto the Government’s ‘Homes for Ukraine’ website and register with ‘York City of Sanctuary’.
We, are of course, very concerned about people traffickers who are exploiting the situation at the borders with Ukraine, and it is really important that agencies are on hand to ensure that children travelling alone or vulnerable people are not picked off by them. Making people wait for documents only increases this risk.
Yet again, York is generous. The aid agencies are asking if people could just donate money not items. There is good reason for this since items often do not reach their destination, it can cost more in getting the goods there, and more seriously, clog up the roads and draw aid agencies away from doing their work to support collections or dispose of them. It is best to wait for people to come to our communities and then to establish what their needs are. For example, when refugees came to York 18 months ago, the need was for old mobile phones to be used, not clothes or other items.
There are many national aid charities with collections for Ukraine, including the Disasters Emergency Committee, which Government is also contributing to.
At the UN General Assembly 141 countries voted to support Ukraine and denounce that of the Russian regime. 5 countries voted in opposition to this, including Russia and Belarus, and 47 either actively or passively abstained. Since we have seen a ratcheting up of sanctions against the Russian government and oligarchs. In the UK, a considerable amount of money passes through the city, and much property is owned by people now sanctioned. The world has worked together to focus Russia on puling back in this war. As one Ukrainian MP said that every trading transaction stopped, it means that the money cannot be used for making bombs and bullets. There are many multinational companies who are still trading with Russia or are part of their supply chain, from Burger King to Unilever. We should boycott these companies until they decide which side of this war they are on.
The stock exchange in Russia has imploded and has not opened for 3 weeks. This has shown how effective the sanctions are. Countries are working together to go further and the UK must too. We also need more countries to participate in this effort.
When it comes to oil and gas, Europe is heavily dependent Russian hydrocarbon fuels; the UK less so. However, instead of pivoting to a strategy of using less and ramping up retrofitting and diversification into renewable sources, the Government will not phase out UK dependency until the end of this year. I have written to the Business Secretary setting out how we need an industrial scale Green New Deal, to not only help transition our own economy at haste, but also assist Europe with their transition and beyond this see this as an opportunity to support the global effort to meet our climate obligations.
We have known for some time that ‘disinformation’ was flowing out of Russia and manipulating people through social channels. Afterall, Putin used the Brexit debate to disrupt Europe and sadly many were drawn in through his skilful use of manipulation and misinformation. We may have only had a taste of this, but the people have this disinformation 24/7 and it is thanks to broadcasters like the BBC which have been able to produce real content and expose reality to the Russian people. However with a clamp down on external broadcasting, it is now harder for people in Russia to learn what is really happening in this war. It is so important that there is breakthrough in this. The BBC are broadcasting in Russian on line and using shortwave radio.
We salute Russian journalist, Marina Ovsyannikova for taking her stand and showing such bravery in exposing this Russian regime, and to the 10,000s of protesters in Russia and Belarus, who knowing the harsh penalties they could face, are continue to protest against this dictatorship and the atrocities that is being perpetrated.
Diplomatic and military operations
As Members of Parliament, we are meeting daily with Government officials and have had the privilege of meeting with the Ambassador of Ukraine on a number of occasions and recently with four women who are MPs in Ukraine. These briefings are essential in letting us learn how things are progressing on the ground, what the latest needs are, what the political strategy is, and what we need to do to aid Ukraine.
There is a determination to secure a negotiated settlement, but it is crucial that Ukraine does maintain its military independence. With the Minsk Agreement violated, there is a distrust in Putin not using arms again against Ukraine, not least if they moved to a position of ‘neutrality’. Ukraine must have freedom to defend itself and is clearly is unwilling to annex parts of its country to Russian control, albeit under a puppet regime under Kremlin control. However the willingness to talk must be kept live.
Meanwhile, it is evident that the military operation has gone badly for Russia, and at times seems amateurish. Russia soldiers are being led to their graves, and with the taking of 20% of generals, it is clear that the 1000s of casualties is causing despondency in the Russian troops and many to defect as their own fuel and food supplies fall low. However Russian troops are still able to inflict much pain on civilians and they continue to target hospitals and schools, residential areas and other places ban by international law, since they are targeting civilians, not the military.
While the UK and NATO cannot enter into a ‘no fly zone’ for the risk of confronting Russian planes in the sky, it is providing defence aid to Ukraine, and significant quantities of anti-aircraft and anti-tank devices.
We need peace. We need this war to stop. There is so much that each one of us can do, from opening our homes to making donations, to boycotting those that trade with Russia through to sharing your own thoughts on the conflict.
York Stands with Ukraine.