Stop the War Coalition organised a protest at Brighton’s Clock Tower in support of Ukraine yesterday, Sunday 06 March. One of the organisers, Paddy O’Keefe, said he was very concerned about the threat of a “nuclear holocaust.” He said: “The bombing of the nuclear plant, it’s the first time a nuclear installation has been exposed to battlefield conditions and been bombed. It is interesting, Stop the War has been criticised. It is hypocritical of UK politicians to complain about the protests. Keir Starmer said we were either ‘naïve’ or ‘facilitating Putin.’”
Nicky Brennan who is now an Independent Councillor for East Brighton hosted the event. She read out a statement from Stop the War Coalition saying the war in Ukraine was a disaster for the people of Ukraine. “We demand the withdrawal of all Russian troops.” She said the coalition also opposes NATO expansion and sanctions that will affect ordinary Russian people.
Jake Easby-Robinson from the Peace and Environment Centre spoke about the importance of community. He is a Peace volunteer and he said: “Communities are torn apart and pitted against each other. We see each other and communicate with each other. When communities lose their role models, it is difficult to rebuild them.”
He said Ukrainians do not want to fight each other but there are factions from previous conflicts. “Communities have to have role models.” He said there is millions of displaced people in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan etc. “Our government is not doing enough for refugees. We need to rebuild democracy. It’s not just what’s on our TV screens and our phones. We need to understand the root causes of the conflict.”
Ellen Graubart spoke of the racist element in the disproportionate media coverage of the war in Ukraine. She said: “These wars are being instigated and carried out by the imperialist agenda of the US and its little brother the UK to gain and retain control of natural resources and put in place puppet regimes around the world. The winners are the large corporations and the Military Industrial Complex, and the losers are always the ordinary people who just want a decent life and safety for their families.
“There is a huge racist element to these wars and conflicts, as countries where brown and black people live don’t rate the coverage that a white country like Ukraine is getting: note that brown and black workers and students trying to escape Ukraine are being stopped at the Polish border; apparently Eurostar is giving Ukrainian refugees free passage to the UK, while black refugees are left to drown in the Channel.
“The combination of the advance of NATO towards Russia’s borders, which the US and the West promised would not happen, against a cruel dictator with an enormous axe to grind, and who is hell-bent on defending himself against the threat to his position and as he sees it, an attack on his dignity – is bringing us nearer and nearer to midnight in terms of the possibility of a nuclear Third World War.
“There never has been a more urgent need for this insanity to stop. There will be no winners if we descend into nuclear war.
“We are already facing one enormous threat to life on this planet with global warming. We need to stop the war more than any time in history.”
Phil from the National Education Union (NEU) said: “We support the peace movement in Russia, the NEU solution is not more war. The solution is diplomacy, negotiation and solidarity. We see the missiles take off but we are not used to seeing the shells landing. People now understand what it means to be a refugee from war. We need to open the doors. The invasion is an outrage.”
Andy Richards representing Unison at Brighton and Hove City Council, said: “Putin is a fascist, imperialist Kleptocrat. Unison sends solidarity to the Ukraine people and calls for Russia to withdraw its forces…
“I am proud that Unison members working at the Isle of Grain terminal refused to handle Russian ships this week as did the Unite members in New England (USA) and Orkney (Scotland).
“We offer our solidarity to the Ukranian people, to Russians courageously opposing the war, to workers taking action against the war. We demand the UK Government open doors to Ukrainian refugees.”
Tom Hickey from the University of Brighton UCU Union said: “We stand with the Russians who have lost their jobs and the 10,000 Russians arrested in dozens of cities for opposing the war. Every country is entitled to fight for self-determination.
“We cannot stand for imperial power – the tiny minority that wants to justify and excuse the invasion. There is no excuse and no justification. We must not ourselves be silenced because an explanation is not justification. There is a war of propaganda by politicians in this country. We need to successfully support the Ukrainians.
“The Government says it stands for humanity in the face of Putin’s brutality.” He reminded us that Priti Patel, the UK Home Secretary said she would not take refugees from Ukraine. Mr Hickey said: “Our borders should be open for refugees from war and we should be welcoming them.”
“There is no excuse for Putin and no excuse for our leaders either. Stop the War Coalition will stop the war and the heroic resistance of the Ukrainian people will stop the war.
“Notice some people still escape sanctions: Abramovich is selling his football toys. Generalised sanctions to attack Russia will affect ordinary people in Russia. The Tory Defence Secretary said we will go to war for weeks and months. There is Western Imperialism by Nato as well.
“Putin said the problem in Ukraine is created by the Bolsheviks – Putin blames Lenin. The affinity between nations recognises self-determination. Ukraine needs to be supported. Putin and his gang of thugs need to go.”
Jeremy Weinstein from the campaign group Stand up to Racism, said his grandparents were chased out of Ukraine by the Tsar. He said: “My son is living in Slovakia. He has just taken in a refugee. His daughter’s best friend is living in the metro sheltering from Putin’s bombs. He said he listened to Thought for the Day on Radio Four today. They were talking about refugees with blue eyes and blonde hair. Back in the seventies they welcomed Eritreans, Afghans and Syrians. We say: ‘They are welcome here.’ Let them in because they are welcome here.
“There is a Stand up to Racism March in London on Saturday March 19. Protestors will leave Brighton Station at 10.15am. There is a public meeting on Wednesday. They are welcome here.”
I spoke to a couple, one of whom was Polish. Her partner said: “She has real concerns. Where will it stop?” She addressed the crowd and said: “I am so proud of the Polish people. We don’t like refugees. You fight with France, we fight with Russia. The Ukrainian people fight now. I want to support the average person without big politics. I came here to stand with the people of Ukraine now.”
Nadia from Care for Calais gave a broader speech about the plight of refugees. She said: “We are refugees. Since World War Two five million Palestinians are under UN protection, there are eight million refugees from Afghanistan and Syria. In Ukraine 10% of the population could become refugees.
“Refugees don’t start wars. Stand up for refugees… we are slow to welcome refugees. We turned back refugees in Calais. Families are living in a hostel in Calais while they wait to come to the UK. Some people from Sudan live in scraps of plastic as a home for years.
Bulgaria’s Prime Minister said: “Europeans are not refugees. They are educated with blonde hair and blue eyes. BAME refugees are unable to cross to Poland. Much more needs to be done. There is a stark difference between the main stream narrative today and refugees from earlier years.
“There are new laws to criminalise people claiming asylum. If you arrive by Eurostar you can claim asylum in the UK. We say all refugees are welcome here. We want a free, safe passage from Ukraine and all other parts of the world torn apart by war.”
Jim said: “We will be leaving on the 14 March from Newhaven with a small convoy to the Hungarian border. We will take medicine for kids and nappies. I am so proud. Europe is getting together to help Ukraine. We will need documentation to take kids nappies out of the country. I have never felt like a rat in a cage as much as I feel right now in the UK.”
I spoke to Emma Fairall, Estelle Barton and Andrea from Slovakia. Andrea said: “Originally I was angry that this had been allowed to happen. We are here showing people that we care. In 1968 Russia invaded E Europe. I can’t believe it’s happening again. There was lot of disinformation in 1968, history is repeating itself.
“Putin’s advisors are lying to him because they don’t dare to tell him the truth about the resistance. He tricked young people into going to war by telling them they were doing military exercises.”
Estelle said we care about the people of Ukraine. “Peaceful protest is a good start.”