Why I launched Labour Friends of Ukraine

British politics is mired in an inward-looking and parochial phase, but I believe Labour is better than that


If I tell you I was at Euromaidan you’ll immediately get the wrong idea. On a freezing cold day of brilliant sunshine, I was keeping an appointment with an important Ukrainian for whom I have a soft spot; my wife. It was December 2013 – before the violence erupted – and despite the anger at recent events the atmosphere was convivial, you might even say comradely.

The demands at the centre of the protest were unremarkable, even humdrum. An end to the corruption that was (and still is) crippling the country and the introduction of what makes our lives in the EU prosperous and enviable – the rule of law; operating inside a framework of rules presided over by fair courts and transparent institutions.

You know the history – those simple ambitions had been dashed by Viktor Yanukovych after a late intervention by Vladimir Putin involving the offer of cash, the exertion of energy blackmail and the application of threats.

In front of the hastily erected stage the huddled crowd pogoed together for warmth to a chant of ‘Khto ne skache toy Moskal’ (Those not jumping are Russians), proud activists graffitied their home town in the maze of tunnels around the Metro stations – Rivne, Odessa, Mukachevo, Kharkiv – and enterprising vendors sold flags and scarves asserting Ukrainian pride and independence from Russian interference.

The Euromaidan I saw, and prefer to remember, was fond, hopeful and emboldened. I imagined it to be a second Orange Revolution and hopefully more successful. I’d be lying if I claimed to foresee what happened next.

What happened next – long after our departure – was closer to a cataclysm. The streets aflame, the same pogoing activists I’d stood alongside – now in ramshackle armour – scrambling for cover as their friends were picked off by snipers.

Back in London we worried for our family and friends, and worried still more when Russia’s ‘little green men’ invaded and annexed Crimea. I’d spent time in this beautiful, rugged, region and never detected in the taxi drivers and shopkeepers the ability or inclination to pick up Kalashnikovs and drive tanks through Sevastopol.

What did we think Putin would do when we acquiesced in this nonsense of ‘concerned citizens’ taking up arms? He did what any nationalist who considers the collapse of the Soviet Union ‘the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century’ would do: he made another land-grab by moving into eastern Ukraine. Francois Hollande may say there is no military solution to this conflict, but Vladimir Putin would like to disagree.

For someone with a real connection to Ukraine I arrived shamefully late to the conclusion that I had a responsibility to do something more than tut at the hot air of Western leaders and compose anti-Putin tweets. I launched Labour Friends of Ukraine last week with the modest ambition of bringing together sympathetic party members, providing news and notice of events and perhaps even attracting some support from our MPs and MEPs.

British politics is mired in an inward-looking and parochial phase but I believe that Labour is better than that. We believe in a better world, not just better gas and electricity bills.

With his old fashioned masculinity and faux-deference to conservative religion Putin is, almost to a comedic extent, the personification of a Sicilian mobster. In his creepy ethnocentrism and appeals to national destiny there are historical parallels that are nothing to laugh about. Labour has faced down such men in the past and expressed solidarity with their victims. It’s time to do so again.

Jamie Milne is the Labour councillor for Evelyn ward, Lewisham. Follow LFU on Twitter

As you’re here, we have something to ask you. What we do here to deliver real news is more important than ever. But there’s a problem: we need readers like you to chip in to help us survive. We deliver progressive, independent media, that challenges the right’s hateful rhetoric. Together we can find the stories that get lost.

We’re not bankrolled by billionaire donors, but rely on readers chipping in whatever they can afford to protect our independence. What we do isn’t free, and we run on a shoestring. Can you help by chipping in as little as £1 a week to help us survive? Whatever you can donate, we’re so grateful - and we will ensure your money goes as far as possible to deliver hard-hitting news.

23 Responses to “Why I launched Labour Friends of Ukraine”

  1. Jim Bennett

    Thank you for your thoughtful and considered response to my comments, Leon.

    Just to reiterate my position:

    – I don’t “justify” the war on the basis of capitalism, I condemn it.

    – I do not justify the Russian involvement in the war, I condemn it.

    – I point out that BOTH the Ukrainian nationalists and ethnic Russians are funded and supported by local oligarchs in search of profit.

    – I point out that BOTH the Ukrainian nationalists and ethnic Russians are proxies for their respective international capitalist backers in their mutual struggle for control of energy markets.

    – I point out that BOTH the Ukrainian nationalists and ethnic Russians have been found by Amnesty to have committed horrendous war crimes.
    I take a face value your points about ethnic Russian anti-Semitism. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that the Ukrainian nationalists, as exemplified by the Adair and Azov brigades, use Nazi imagery, celebrate former SS officers and have avowedly fascist politics. The history of Ukrainian nationalism has not been benign in relation to the welfare of Jewish people.
    I support neither Russian nor Ukrainian nationalism. As far as I’m concerned they are the same exploitative capitalists waving different coloured flags.
    A plague on both their houses.

  2. Guest

    Thanks, Lord Blagger, for now trying to backtrack. But you do that badly, even!

    You’ve tried try and claim that the Ukranians are evil for resisting your beloved Russian’s troops, on the back of your propaganda, as you try and make a basic proposition of self-determination about your capitalism.

    You “point out” something which has had no effect on the Jewish populations, false equivalence, as you want mass death – plague is exactly that after all, as you try and have the West abandon Ukraine to Russian troops.

    Which is supporting Russia and it’s invasion. of course.

    And Russia isn’t going to stop with the Ukraine. Want mass death in the Baltics, too?

  3. Jim Bennett

    Again, thank you for what you must consider to be an articulate and intelligent response to my post. However, I must admit that I’m struggling to understand what you write. I presume that your analysis, language and grammar is derived from a world which I don’t have the privilege of inhabiting.
    All the best.

  4. Guest

    So you say you don’t inhabit Britain or speak English well.

    So you have no basis to make a judgement on “articulate and intelligent”, Lord Blagger, as you carouse in Monaco. No doubt with some Russian friends.

  5. Oliver Coxhead

    Pathetic excuse for supporting US-EU imperialism. ‘EU prosperous and enviable’ what like Ireland, Portugal and Greece. Prosperous for the rich! No mention of Nazi gangs backed by NATO, genocide against Russian speakers and the fact the working class in Donbass is trying to overthrow the oligarchs and build socialism in the face of extreme violence from the US-EU backed Poroshenko and indifference (except for vocal moral support) from Putin. The working class in Eastern Ukraine are fighting fascism and imperialism. I am a member of the Labour Party in Vauxhall and a supporter of Solidarity with Anti-Fascist Resistance in Ukraine. I will be fighting for class politics against those who cover their support for fascism and imperialism with EU liberal style rhetoric.

Comments are closed.