Statement on Ukraine

written by consensus of the Action Ukraine Working Group

“All imperial arrangements do, ultimately, rest on terror.”

David Graeber

For many of us, this is the closest we have ever felt the spectre of a genuine threat of nuclear war. Even those who lived through earlier deepening shadows know: we, as a species, have never been closer to midnight.

It is vital that great diplomatic efforts are made to limit escalation: talk of an attempt to enforce a no-fly zone must remain talk. The risk of igniting our own demise, as a species, is far too great.

The shocking cost of war for the peoples of Ukraine is plain for all to see. Attacks on civilians are unforgivable. We unreservedly condemn all such attacks. Not merely in Ukraine but far beyond too.

The invasion of Ukraine is the outcome of a complex history. It is the culmination of many events, and must be considered as such. We ask all to approach it with nuance. We understand this is not a simple thing.

We understand as well: it’s not simple to find space for “the aggressors”. But most of the Russian people are not guilty here.

It is a fact that sanctions will not achieve the ultimate goal. Instead, they will mostly just cause suffering for innocent people. As well: the sanctions risk escalation for us all. (You may wish to do a little search to learn more about Russia’s rather misnamed “de-escalation” policy.)

The fighting in Ukraine has looked brutal even from afar. In part due to the racism of (White) European exceptionalism, there has been more intimate reporting on civilian impact than most wars in living memory. That the constant awareness of the horror of this war has wrought deep grooves in all of our psyches these past few weeks is clear.

But why have so many been so unable to find this same compassion for other conflicts, elsewhere in the world? Some of those are far longer standing, like in Palestine. Others are fresher conflicts, yet with long histories, like in Yemen and Cameroon. The difference of course lies in that aforementioned (racist) exceptionalism.

We must emphasise strongly, then, that we stand with all of the peoples of Ukraine.

It’s been all too evident in discourse on social media that not all are equal in the eyes of some. This has been a problem both with Ukrainian media & at the border, on both sides of that border. This is not a new problem in Europe or the UK for that matter. We do after all live in the land of the Hostile Environment. The UK has long pursued a cultural genocide against GRT communities. It is far from alone in Europe in this.

There have been pogroms against the Roma people in Ukraine in the last decade. This renders the arming of neo-Nazi militias, such as Azov and Aidar, even more worrying than is obvious. Ukraine, like all European countries, has a long history with racism.

We fear for Black and Brown people in Ukraine too. It is, sadly, nowhere near unexpected that there have even been calls for racial segregation at the border.

It’s easy to see how the proliferation of guns in Ukraine could take us to a very dangerous place.

It is clearly vital that we give aid to those organisations in Ukraine led by Roma folk. As, of course, it is vital that we stand with GRT communities here in the UK seeking to help. Likewise, we must seek to prioritise those organisations led by Black and Brown voices. We will continue to reach out in solidarity however we can.

We are especially furious at the failings of the British State. The extension of the hostile environment to anyone who is not a relative of a Ukrainian already in Britain is the deepest failure of compassion. Our solidarity as a country has not even been skin deep.

There have been outright outrageous lies. Ministers have claimed “none have been turned away”. In fact, Britain has sent personnel to the Ukrainian border to do just that. Ministers have rattled their sabres and worn little flags while doing nothing of practical use.

This hard-hearted approach is not new. But we desperately hope many are and will soon be waking up to the true ramifications of the “hostile environment”.

We must all seek to summon the better angels of our nature. Everywhere, all at once – attitudes can, should, and must change. It is vital to all of our futures to open our arms wide to those in need. This must be so wherever their weary feet have carried them from. We must not close our hearts. We must keep our eyes open. And we must open our arms wide.

That the Ukrainian people need aid is clear. We will continue to seek out those avenues which genuinely help the Ukrainian people. We will share some of those from today, but you will notice that we are not pushing the big charities. This is deliberate. We want as much of your compassion to reach the Ukrainian people as possible.

We remind you: all people who suffer deserve to not. No matter their bravery or lack. No matter the colour of their skin or their religion. No matter their philosophical beliefs. No matter even their misdemeanours. War makes all who flee equal in need. To discriminate is to open the door to ever greater suffering.

Across the continent we must stiffen our resolve to ensure we do more to safeguard those crossing the border. There have been reports of thousands of children “going missing”. In reality, many have been snatched by human traffickers. The hostility to refugees is what creates that opportunity. We say: slam the door on traffickers, but open it wide to those who are suffering.

We call on all the nations of Europe to pool resources. We demand that every step of every foot on European soil beyond the Ukrainian border is safe for refugees.

We insist that any harm to any refugee beyond that border is our collective failing.

Britain can do more here. We can send money & people to support the effort to process those fleeing. It might be that our best efforts cannot be enough. It may be that too many flee. Some situations are just beyond control. But we still must try to make sure that every refugee who can be kept safe is kept safe.

They can live with no less. All the people hurt by this war deserve no less than our best.

We must open our hearts. We must open our arms. We must open our very homes – and our borders. It is time for a single clear message:

No refugee is illegal.