Thank you to everyone who attended the Ukraine Vigil to mark the first anniversary of Russia’s illegal war and invasion of Ukraine.

Despite the cold and icy weather, I am proud that our community demonstrated our solidary and unity with the people of Ukraine, who are defending their country and enduring constant bombardment from Russia.

We all pray for peace, and that Ukraine is victorious in defending its sovereignty and democracy.

I was honoured to be asked to speak at the vigil and made the following comments.

Friday 24 February, Ukraine Vigil, Seaham

“One year on, how can you find the words to describe the atrocity of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.

We take our peace and security for granted, being untouched by war on the homefront for nearly 80 years.

Our experiences of war in Ukraine are remote; they come from the pictures we see on tv, reports in the press and statements in Parliament.

There is no way that we can truly understand the horror of those first tanks rolling across the border, the bombings and air strikes that are now part of daily life in Ukraine.

I do not think our role is to explain the war, our role is to listen and support our brothers and sisters in Ukraine, as they fight for freedom and democracy.

I was fortunate enough to hear President Zelensky.

At the start of the war, and only last month, President Zelensky addressed parliament.

Today, he made a moving speech, speaking to the world one year on from the start of the war.

I use his word now:

“February 24, 2022 was the longest day of our lives. Our hardest day in modern history. We woke up early and haven’t fallen asleep since.

We did not raise the white flag, and began to defend the blue and yellow.

Our faith has grown stronger. Our morale has been reinforced. We endured the first day of a full-scale war. We didn’t know what would happen tomorrow, but we realized for sure: every tomorrow is worth fighting for!”

President Zelensky has been a powerful voice for Ukraine, sharing with the world the reality of war, and the lived experience of the Ukrainian people.

A year ago today, Russia made an extraordinary miscalculation.

Ukraine was expected to surrender and capitulate in a matter of weeks.

Putin expected Ukraine to become a vassal state in an expanding Russian Empire.

Instead, the bravery and sacrifice of Ukraine has inspired the world.

When the war started and faced with one of the most powerful armies in the world, Ukraine refused to lie down; you resisted with an unbreakable will and unity that has shown the character and greatest of the Ukrainian people.

Ukraine is the frontline in a war for democracy and human rights against the forces of tyranny.
This is a fight we cannot afford to lose, not only for Ukraine, but for the nations that believe in freedom, democracy and human rights.

We stand in solidarity with Ukraine, and we will do so until Ukraine is liberated and once again at peace.

I am delighted we are joined by our neighbours and friends.

At the start of the war, I am proud that our community opened our hearts and our homes, offering a safe space to Ukrainian families.

We stand in front of our Cenotaph.

A Cenotaph is an empty tomb, a monument to someone buried elsewhere, commemorating the service and sacrifice of those who have died in war.

And while my comments are said to honour the resistance and resilience of the Ukrainian people, I would like to take a moment to remember the family and friends who have given their lives in the defence of Ukraine.

We remember and honour you tonight, with our Cenotaph serving as a focal point for reflection.

You are in our hearts, and you will forever be the soul of Ukraine.

We stand here tonight as one community, under the flags of Ukraine and the United Kingdom.

Our flags will fly together in Seaham, and across the nation until peace is secured.

Thank you for joining us tonight, our thoughts and prays are forever with you Ukraine.

Glory to Ukraine.

Slava Ukraini”

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