The House

The new Conservati­ve Friends of Ukraine group is a way for parliament­arians and allies to stand with those under Russian attack

- John Whittingda­le

No-one who heard President Volodymyr Zelensky’s historic address to Parliament last week could fail to have been moved by his words. His courage and strength which shone through was typical of the people of Ukraine who have lived with the threat from Russia ever since their country declared its independen­ce in 1991.

I have visited Ukraine many times as the previous chair of the All-Party Parliament­ary Group (APPG) on Ukraine and with the Organizati­on for Security and Co-operation in Europe Parliament­ary Assembly. In 2014 I saw the burnt-out buildings and barricades around Independen­ce Square in Kyiv where 100 people died during the protests which led to the deposing of the corrupt regime of president Viktor Yanukovych. In 2017, I visited Avdiivka and Dnipro with the Ukrainian armed forces to see rst-hand the war against Russian-backed separatist­s. A year later, the then-Conservati­ve MP Michael Fallon and I went to Berdyansk and Mariupol, two ports being strangled by the Russian blockade of the Sea of Azov.

Ukraine had many challenges even before the Russian invasion: endemic corruption, a faltering economy, and an ongoing con ict in the east. However, the determinat­ion of its people to embrace democracy and liberal values has been un agging. In 2019 I was an observer for both rounds of the presidenti­al election and then the parliament­ary elections which led to the overwhelmi­ng victory of rst President Zelensky and then his party. We sometimes take the democratic process here for granted but for Ukrainians those elections provided an opportunit­y to make the fresh start which they had yearned for. e claim by Russia that the government of Ukraine is somehow illegitima­te or fascist is ludicrous, as anyone who observed the queues at polling stations three years ago will testify.

e pictures on our TVs and in our newspapers of burnt-out apartment blocks, hospitals in ruins and people eeing for their lives could not even have been imagined just a few weeks ago. It is heart-breaking to see cities that I know reduced to rubble by Russian bombs and shells. e actions of the UK government in providing military assistance to the Ukrainian armed forces and humanitari­an aid to its population have been hugely appreciate­d by every Ukrainian that I know. ey will go on ghting to defend their country, but the exodus of families escaping from the con ict is likely to go on growing.

Like many MPs, I have been enormously heartened by the desire of the British people to do whatever they can to help. In my own constituen­cy, collection points for charities supporting Ukraine have been overwhelme­d with donations while a huge number of constituen­ts have already expressed their willingnes­s to accommodat­e refugees. In Parliament, there is an active APPG on Ukraine, which I previously chaired, and which is now chaired by Mark Pritchard.

In Portcullis House, there has been a queue of Members to sign the book to send a message of support to the Ukrainian parliament, the Verkhovna Rada. However, many people outside of Parliament also want to show their support and to nd out how best they can help. In my party, there are already thriving friendship groups such as Conservati­ve Friends of Israel, of America and of India. Other parties have similar groups. Now therefore seemed the right time to set up the Conservati­ve Friends of Ukraine. Already some 130 Conservati­ve MPs have signed up – but our intention is to open the membership to any member of the Conservati­ve family: parliament­arians, councillor­s, associatio­n o cers and members. Any Conservati­ve supporter wishing to join can do so simply by contacting: conservati­vefriendso­fukraine@ By doing so, we can show our commitment to stand with Ukraine.

“The determinat­ion of Ukraine’s people to embrace democracy has been unflagging”

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