Exeter comes together for vigil in solidarity with Ukraine
A vigil in solidarity with the people of Ukraine was held in Bedford Square, Exeter at 11am on Sunday 27 February. Organised by the leader of the Exeter City Council, Phil Bialyk, it saw the square filled with members of the local community holding flags, signs, and flowers.
The vigil was organised in response to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Thursday 24 February. Despite denying his plans for an attack months prior to the invasion, President Vladimir Putin broke a 2015 peace deal, and sent Russian forces across the border to attack its neighbour, a European democratic and sovereign state with a population of 44 million, in an attempt to control and annex it. Hundreds of Ukrainian civilians have already been killed in the attack, and more than half a million have fled the country.
Exeter’s MP, Ben Bradshaw, attended and spoke at the vigil. He addressed the crowds saying how shocked he was that in 2022 people were gathering for a vigil because of the “jackboot of a fascist dictator.” He said it was critical that the UK government close down the “London laundromat” for Russian money and lift the usual visa requirements for Ukrainians wanting to come to the UK. He described the current visa requirements and the suggestion from MP Kevin Foster that Ukranians could apply for a seasonal work visa as “obscene”, and said Ukranians should be let into the UK in the same way that “their neighbours” such as Poland and Romania have.
“Activities like this, showing our solidarity, really do help keep morale up. Please spread the word.”
Mr Bradshaw also expressed his understanding for the “feeling of helplessness” many will be feeling, and then listed ways in which people in Exeter can help the people of Ukraine. He encouraged those who were from outside of Exeter to write to their own MP and urge them to put pressure on the government to go “faster and deeper on economic sanctions.” He finished his speech by urging people to donate what they can, and for those in attendance to share photographs of the vigil on social media for the people of Ukraine to see: “Activities like this, showing our solidarity, really do help keep morale up. Please spread the word. Love, live, free democratic Ukraine.”
“Exeter is a sanctuary city. We will always accept refugees.”
Councillor Phil Bialyk also spoke at the vigil. He told the crowd about the Ukrainian community in Exeter, his family currently in West Ukraine, and called up one of his relatives on a video call to talk to the crowd. Councillor Bikalyk said this relative’s son would be joining the militia in Ukraine.
Addressing the Ukrainian community who were in attendance at the vigil, he spoke of the bonds they were able to form, and the need for Exeter to be a safe haven for Ukrainian refugees. He said: “This is a sanctuary city. We will always accept refugees.”
Following the speeches, the crowd held a five minute silence to think of the people in Ukraine. The silence then erupted into applause.
Vigils have been held up and down the UK over the weekend, and more are planned for this week. Across the South West of England, events were also held in Plymouth, Truro, and Mylor, Cornwall on Sunday 27 February. A vigil is expected to take place in Bristol on Wednesday 2nd March.