Like most people who had heard rumblings of Russian discontent towards the final stages of 2021, I could not have envisaged the humanitarian tragedy that has since unfolded in the early months of 2022. A new year should have brought with it optimism, possibility, and hope, but it has instead brought with it scenes more akin to the dictatorial and primitive regimes of the 20th Century. The war that has been inflicted onto Ukraine by Vladimir Putin is an assault on the fundamental principles of human decency, agency, and liberty. We have been here before. The inevitability that shrouded the imminent escalation was both shocking but also deeply disheartening. After similar affronts in Syria, the intentions of jingoistic leaders like Putin should not come as a surprise and the lack of effective safeguards to prevent the devastation of Ukraine speaks volumes of general apathy felt towards how foreign powers conduct their ‘diplomatic business’. After all, these affairs are taking place ‘over there’, so we can feign ignorance. Out of sight, out of mind.
The scale of the human cost suffered by Ukrainians both fighting in their homeland and fleeing to safety is immeasurable, and the reluctance displayed by the UK to help those in need (in comparison to the concerted efforts of our European neighbours) illustrates the extent to which British exceptionalism continues to pervade political consciousness. Any upcoming change in policy to accommodate Ukrainians desperately in need of support will be the height of posturing; much like waiting to see which way the crowd moves before running in front and yelling, ‘Follow me!’
It is undoubtable that the rhetoric surrounding the greater sense of empathy with the Ukrainian plight on grounds of ‘similar cultural values from people in a developed nation like ours’ is the dressing up of racism as concern. The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has flown to Ukraine to support refugees, despite spending the latter stages of 2021 itemising strategies to reject boats containing Sudanese refugees for the crime of not being white enough to garner public sympathy. This is not to diminish the very real trauma that Ukrainians are currently experiencing, but simply to serve as a warning as to how easily narratives can be manipulated to turn a marginalised group of society into scapegoats for British political failings. It might not be long before xenophobic stereotypes are conjured up of the few Ukrainians who are lucky enough to jump through the arduous, arbitrary hoops to rebuild their lives in the UK, just like other Europeans have been demonised publicly. What should be remembered is that this tragedy is a shared one; we have a moral and social responsibility to support in whatever way we can, as the invasion and war crimes currently being perpetrated erode the fabric of the civilisation that bind us all together.
The widespread solidarity has been the most encouraging aspect of these darkest of hours. To the nations, corporations, and political leaders who have yet to comment thus far – their silence is deafening and will not be forgotten.
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.– Martin Niemöller (1946)