16th March 2022
We Stand Together’s latest Difficult Dialogue, in partnership with Europia, titled ‘Europe in Crisis?’, was held at the Ukrainian Cultural Centre in Manchester this week with many also present on Zoom. The event posed some key questions:
§ How is Brexit playing out for diverse communities?
§ What does the war in Ukraine mean for us in the UK?
§ How do we want our leaders to act towards each other?
§ What can we do locally to affect better relations across Europe?
Jonny Wineberg, Director of Operations for We Stand Together, thanked the Ukrainian Cultural Centre for hosting and for all they were doing to respond to the crisis. He was clear that We Stand Together stood with the Ukrainian community and hoped that the war would end quickly.
The event was introduced by Bob Sopel, Chair of the Association of Ukrainians Great Britain, Manchester Branch. He recounted the gathering of Russian forces in Crimea and Belarus and how the Ukrainian people, and the world had construed it as mere sabre-rattling.
He expressed his disbelief that Russia had invaded Ukraine and described the havoc the war has wreaked on his homeland and his people in the past two and a half weeks, with over 3 million Ukrainians, mainly women and children, fleeing the country.
He detailed the heroism of the Ukraine people and the ferocity with which they continue to defend their country, cautioning that Russia will not stop with Ukraine. He implored people to not buy into propaganda and misinformation about Ukrainians deliberately causing harm to their own citizens to garner international support, branding it as blatant, inhumane lies.
Mr Sopel expressed his profound gratitude towards the people of Manchester for donating openheartedly and asserted that the Ukrainian Centre and the Ukrainian community in the UK is ready to help the government with processing visas, translating documents and accommodation for refugees. He voiced his sympathy for the young Russian soldiers dying in the war, and being cremated on the battlefield, unable to return home even in death, signifying a need to end this war as soon as possible.
Feedback from group discussions highlighted a need for humanity and honesty in addressing the developing situation in Ukraine. Participants suggested that there was a marked disconnect between our government’s words and actions. It was voiced that the government is hostile to foreigners and unwelcoming of people who come into the country, suggesting that this belies a racist, ethnocentric and xenophobic attitude.
Participants asserted that people in the UK are willing to host Ukrainians and welcome those who seek sanctuary from war in Ukraine. However, with the red tape that government has laid out around the process of letting refugees enter the UK, it is impossible for local people to directly help refugees. Local support cannot come into effect until the refugees have physically entered the country, which means that the Home Office needs to be more proactive in admitting them into the country. A need to connect people who are entering the country with those who want to help them, individually or as part of a charity, was put forward.
The role of NATO in this war, and how it had short-changed Ukraine, was discussed. It was suggested that had NATO taken a hard-line attitude with Russia earlier on in the crisis, Russia’s advances could have been curtailed and the war avoided.
Participants voiced how Ukraine had been forcefully divested of its nuclear arsenal and the countries that pledged to guard Ukraine in the Budapest Memorandum had abandoned it in its hour of need. The UK and Europe’s double-standard of allowing refugees from Ukraine but denying those from Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen and other countries was also called into question. It was felt that race and ethnicity should not be a factor in deciding who to let into the country.
Kush Chottera, CEO of Europia, commended the generosity of Poland in taking in large number of refugees and appreciated the local response to the crisis. He said that there was an urgent need to offer personalised immigration support to refugees, protect marginalised communities in Ukraine and ensure that there was a long-term plan to address trauma and build emotional resilience for those who had been ousted from their country, helping them rehabilitate.
Participants suggested that there was a need to bringing communities together, building understanding and respect, so that more people move from being insular to open-minded and welcoming of all.
Jonny Wineberg thanked everyone for participating and encouraged them to donate to supporting Ukrainians in Need either via We Stand Together, who will be sharing donations between Europia and the Ukrainian Cultural Centre’s efforts, or directly with the organisations themselves. Donations can be made via www.westandtogether.org.uk.
Contact for further information:
Jonny Wineberg: firstname.lastname@example.org, 07930 534422