Even those who are very cynical about the Putin regime in Russia have been shocked by the decision to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. There has been shock, too, at the significant human cost which has occurred in these first few days of the war, at the sight of children lying in hospital beds and the knowledge that hundreds of civilians – and possibly thousands of soldiers – have already died.
The flow of refugees from Ukraine over the past six days already stands at around 660,000 people, and the UNHCR says that this is set to become Europe’s largest refugee crisis this century. Ukraine’s neighbours should be praised for the support they have provided to those crossing the border in search of safety. Some countries have waived visa requirements for Ukrainians entirely.
Unfortunately, the UK Government has shown its usual reluctance to help the refugees, and while it is slowly being pushed into providing more avenues for Ukrainians to seek safety here, it can and should do much more.
Not only should we greatly increase the ability of refugees from Ukraine to come to this country, we must also act to support those countries on Ukraine’s borders which are receiving the majority of those fleeing the war. Some, such as Moldova, simply do not have the resources to help tens or hundreds of thousands of people and will need all the humanitarian assistance we can provide.
Supporting the Ukrainian people does of course also mean supporting their capacity to resist the Russians, which they have done extraordinarily bravely. The increasing frustration the Russians will feel at the fact the war has, so far, clearly not gone to plan will only mean they increase the force they use – and how indiscriminately they use it. The Ukrainians need anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons, vehicles, body armour, communications equipment and light arms if they are going to be able to continue holding out.
It is also essential that we get humanitarian support to Ukraine, particularly food and medical supplies, which are already reportedly running low in some areas. It will become increasingly important to provide water, since it is inevitable that pipelines will be damaged or destroyed.
What the UK has already supplied is making a difference to Ukraine’s ability to defend itself against Russian aggression. This must be both continued and strengthened to help ensure that Ukraine remains a free and independent state.
This article was originally published in the Rochdale Observer on 5 March 2022.