Over recent days I have received many emails from constituents concerning Russia’s war against Ukraine. As expected, Southsiders have unanimously expressed horror at what they are seeing in the news: an unprovoked military assault on a peaceful democracy that threatens no one.
To those who have sent messages of support and solidarity with Ukrainians, or taken part in protests across Scotland, I want you to know that I am sending your messages and pictures from protests on to people I know in Ukraine. It means a lot to them to know that the world hasn’t forgotten them.
Some of you may know that I have worked on Ukraine for a few years now. I have visited Ukraine several times to meet with politicians, government officials, civil society groups and journalists, with a focus on the conflict that is now in its eighth year. I have visited the Donbas region and spent time in towns that are just over 1km from the contact line with illegally occupied Donetsk, seeing for myself the horror of this conflict and the misery it has caused. Well over 14,000 people have been killed since 2014 and almost 2,000,000 Ukrainians are displaced within their own country. This latest wave of war has made things much worse.
At the beginning of February I was in the capital, Kyiv, to be briefed by members of parliament, the ministry of defence and the ministry of foreign affairs on the impending Russian assault on their country. I was also pleased to meet with civil society groups and get their perspective. They all warmly appreciate the cross-party support and unity that exists for Ukraine.
I have expressly supported the UK Government where I think it has got things right, for example on defensive and economic support, but I am also pushing them to go further where I think they are missing the mark, particularly on sanctions and accepting refugees.
I am also pleased that the Scottish Government has answered Ukraine’s call for medical and humanitarian support. The Scottish Government announced an initial £4m in humanitarian funding along with medical equipment. They will explore what else they can do to help.
I am in daily contact with people in Ukraine who are not only professional politicians, diplomats, and officials, but people I consider as my friends who I have got to know over many years. I have met their families and was pleased to show some of them round the city when they were in Glasgow for COP26. I was hoping to welcome some of them to the Southside for the upcoming Scotland and Ukraine football match at Hampden. For me, there is a strong personal element to this conflict.
As well as regular calls to people on the ground, I have set up cross-party communications with counterparts in Ukraine’s parliament, enabling us to have up to date information and briefings. This information is then used to ensure that, as your MP, I can lobby the UK Government accordingly.
Over the coming days I will continue to press the UK Government on accepting refugees without the unnecessary bureaucracy that they seem intent on imposing. The UK should at least be matching the EU offer. I will also continue to press for the toughest and swiftest possible sanctions on Russia.
What is happening in Ukraine has shocked us all. The scenes of bombed out schools, hospitals and apartment blocks have brought home the bloody recklessness on the part of the Kremlin. Ukrainians have committed no crime other than to want to choose their own future as a sovereign democratic state. This is a war that has no legitimacy internationally and, as we’ve seen from brave Russian protesters in recent days, carries no legitimacy domestically. Only one man can deescalate this whole situation and it’s President Putin. He should end the bloodshed of his own military and the Ukrainian people, and call his troops home now.
Stewart McDonald MP
Glasgow South Constituency