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One month on, Ukrainians at Cambridge vigil ask: ‘Why no visas?’





Ukrainians and Ukrainian supporters gathered on King’s Parade exactly one month after the invasion of their country.

King’s Parade candlelit vigil one month after Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. Pictures: Mike Scialom
King’s Parade candlelit vigil one month after Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. Pictures: Mike Scialom

In the month since February 24 2021 the world has changed forever. Almost 3.6 million people have left Ukraine for western countries: 12 million have left their homes to find new ones in Ukraine – and more than 16,000 fighters have entered Ukraine from 52 other countries to take on the Russian army.

Meanwhile Poland has taken in 2,144,244 refugees. Germany has taken in 170,000. Ireland has taken in 6,600. The UK, with a population 16 times that of neighbouring Ireland, has granted visas for 5,500 refugees, with a further 20,00 waiting to be processed.

The UK government’s ‘homes for Ukrainians’ website has had an estimated 170,000 applicants offering a home to Ukrainian refugees, but the Home Office won’t reveal how many visa have been approved – and it could be zero.

On King’s Parade the mood for the event – organised by Cambridge University Ukrainian Society (CUUS) – was serious but not downcast.

At 6pm the first speaker pointed out that “more than 1,000 missiles have now landed in Ukraine – in Syria, for example, it was 100”.

Pro-Ukraine vigil, King’s Parade, March 24 2022
Pro-Ukraine vigil, King’s Parade, March 24 2022

CUUS vice-president Olenka Dmytryk, a PhD student in Slavonic Studies at the University of Cambridge, said: “Today, one month after the invasion, we are talking to try and stop this war, and this is why we are gathered together.

“Today, we mourn those who have died. More than 500 hospitals have been attacked. Everybody has been suffering in this war. More than 100 children are reported to have been killed but the true figure is much higher. Many people have no access to food, water, electricity or gas. They are barely surviving. We are here to commemorate them and mourn.”

After a period of silence Rev Nigel Uden of Downing Place Reformed Church said: “I come from a faith profession so I presume to echo what it has taught me. Don’t cry ‘Peace’ when there is no peace. Don’t get on with your Caffe Nero on Saturday morning as if this was not going on two and a half hours flying time away. And don’t forget that we must defeat evil with good. Do not fight this with something that is even worse. We have to defeat evil with good – but I can’t tell you what that good is. Part of his vigil is to find what good we can discover to defeat evil. It won’t be seeking revenge.

Dr Rory Finnin, associate professor of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Cambridge, said: “It is really important not to turn away, not to close your eyes. Anything we can do, we should do. It’s going to be needed in the weeks and months ahead.”

A perfect round sun setting on King’s Parade architecture, March 24, 2022
A perfect round sun setting on King’s Parade architecture, March 24, 2022

Rend Platings then asked the crowd of about 100 people about the Homes for Ukrainians government scheme.

“Who among the group has offered to sponsor a refugee from Ukraine?”

More than a dozen hands went up.

“Who has received a visa?”

No hands went up – though there has been one success to date.

“There is deafening silence from the Home Office,” she said. “So you get a chance to get on the front line of the information war. The government needs to do something now, to do what they say, because I am sitting with an empty room and there are 170,000 people who have opened their homes and I don’t think any one of them has had a visa, so I will post a picture of the room with the hashtag #homereadynovisa with a Ukrainian flag and I really hope we’ll have people joining us.”

A commemoration, and a mourning: pro-Ukraine candlelit vigil on King’s Parade
A commemoration, and a mourning: pro-Ukraine candlelit vigil on King’s Parade

The launch of the Cambridge4Ukraine website has been achieved with support from CUUS, but it is a separate project and the initiative is being delivered by Cambridge residents working with students and employees of the University of Cambridge.

“Hosts who have registered with the government can contact us on Facebook or on Twitter @Cambridge4Ukraine,” said one of the organisers, Anatolii Pavlovskyi. Anatolii says he is working “with the city council, with the county council, and now with the NHS, so people arriving in the UK have a proper welcome, and the city library will be offering an information pack”.

He added: “We’ve started the Cambridge4Ukraine initiative and it’s growing – the next step is a community centre for all the Ukrainians who come so they can get information and collect some basics. The local people here are great but we also need help with the city council and other volunteer organisations. Our saying is: ‘Do what you can, and a little more’.”



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