Invasion of Ukraine: ‘Friends are deciding whether to flee or take shelter’
Dr Rory Finnin has spent all morning trying to contact friends and loved ones in Ukraine following the horrific bombardment of the country by Russian forces that started last night.
The associate professor of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Cambridge, who lived in Ukraine and has studied the country for three decades, has been hearing from friends trying to decide whether to flee with their children and others who have taken shelter in metro stations during the bombing.
Russian forces launched a major military attack on Ukraine last night with reports of missile strikes and explosions near major cities.
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky has declared martial law and urged people to stay indoors, amid reports of missile strikes and explosions across the country.
Dr Finnin told the Cambridge Independent: “People I’ve spoken to are seeking safe places to be. One of my close friends was down earlier in one of the metro stations. The metros in Kyiv and in Kharkiv are amazing infrastructural assets and they're very deep underground. So a number of friends have gone there for protection. They have since come back. From what I can tell there isn't this desire to flee amongst everyone. Ukrainians, as one of my friends put it, have nowhere to go, this is their home. And they will defend it. And as the President said last night, they'll be defending it and showing the Russian invading forces, not their backs, but their faces in that defence. Personally I would want to just spirit them here under any circumstances possible. But they're staying put and trying to defend themselves.
“I've been talking with them for weeks about preparing for this with food and clothing for the kids if this were to materialise, but of course, many Ukrainians did not believe Russia would go through with this. This was somewhat surreal to them, even if we could see rationally how it was possible and we were warning of the possibility.
“I think many Ukrainians with so many connections to Russia couldn't fathom that they would go this far to be sending jets over Ukrainian airspace and bombing Ukrainian cities. So they kept oscillating between calmness and then obviously moments of panic where you begin to worry about what you should do for your children. So right now the calls I'm getting run the gamut of emotions - my friends are are laughing, crying. They're trying to absorb all of this, and at the same time to stay laser focused on how they can protect themselves and how they know they're in the right. They understand that they have the weight of history on their side.
”At the moment a lot of Ukrainians have this clarity of mind that war brings and I’m trying to draw strength from that in small ways. Obviously, this is going to be a long war. But right now Ukrainians are keeping their cool. They're very, very frightened. But they're not deterred from the basic inclination to simply live out your life at peace.”
Dr Finnin lived in Ukraine for a number of years and “became fascinated with the country”.
He adds: “Obviously, when you live anywhere for a long time you make close connections, friendships and relationships and so and I've been studying the country for three decades now.”
Dr Finnin is the founding director of Cambridge Ukrainian Studies at the university and his primary research interest is the interplay of literature and national identity in Ukraine. He has been speaking with government officials in recent weeks but says: “Unfortunately, in my conversations at Whitehall, and even in academic settings, as well as on the news, there was, I understand it a well intentioned community of scholars and analysts who really just thought they could hope for the best and that the worst case outcome is that many of us are warning of were hysteria.”
Video recorded on February 16
The worst thing that could happen, he explains, is if the West decides to “look away” and abandon Ukraine “because we'd be abandoning the principles of our international legal order which has kept the peace in Europe for for decades”.
He is calling upon the government to impose severe sanctions on Russia in response to the invasion.
Dr Finnin said: “I think we need to be decisive in cutting off economic ties with Russia, even if it means some pain for us on this side. We've been offering golden visas to Russian billionaires for far too long, as long as they made investments in this country. That has led to a sense of impunity. So we need to fully understand how deeply destructive that comfort level that Britain has had with Russian money.
“The packages of sanctions have to be creative. They will have a toll on the British economy in some way, but it won't be long lasting.
“The effects on the Russian economy however, will be because they have over leveraged themselves in the EU and the UK. I think this notion that we can't do a lot here to fight back is foolish. There's plenty we can do. But mainly I think we need to be supporting the Ukrainian duly elected democratically elected government with an aggressive package of funds, as well as defensive weapons.
“Russia is targeting a democratic state and people who are just like us, who simply want to go raise their kids, without fear of bribing police officials or judges, without fear that if they express a political view that's not in line with the state that they may be jailed. Basic things, basic human rights. They've just been standing up for them in peaceful ways. And this is the response that they've received.”
Boris Johnson said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is a “catastrophe for our continent”, as he called on world leaders to meet and plan a response.
The Prime Minister tweeted his remarks after chairing an urgent Cobra emergency committee meeting on Thursday morning, as Moscow launched a wide-ranging attack on Ukraine, hitting cities and bases with air strikes or shelling.
Then in a televised address, Mr Johnson said: “This act of wanton and reckless aggression is an attack not just on Ukraine, it’s an attack on democracy and freedom in eastern Europe and around the world.”
He added: said: “Innumerable missiles and bombs have been raining down on an entirely innocent population.
“A vast invasion is under way by land, by sea and by air.
“We, and the world, cannot allow that freedom just to be snuffed out. We cannot and will not just look away.
“Today in concert with our allies we will agree a massive package of economic sanctions designed in time to hobble the Russian economy.
“Diplomatically, politically, economically, and eventually, militarily, this hideous and barbaric venture of Vladimir Putin must end in failure.”
Explosions were heard in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, while explosions were also reported in the cities of Odesa and Kharkiv
Elsewhere, footage appeared to show queues of people fleeing their homes, and Russian military crossing the border into Ukraine.
Mr Putin said the action was a response to threats from Ukraine. And in a warning to the international community during President Putin’s address on Russian television, he said: “Whoever tries to impede us, let alone create threats for our country and its people, must know that the Russian response will be immediate and lead to the consequences you have never seen in history.”
Foreign Office minister James Cleverly rubbished his explanation. He told BBC Breakfast: “If Vladimir Putin thinks that he can scare the international community away from supporting Ukrainians in defence of their homeland, he is absolutely wrong on that and should be under absolutely no illusion that we will continue to support the Ukrainian government and Ukrainian people.”
- Additional reporting by PA News.