Support for Ukraine

Our Ukrainian refugees seem to have settled in well, and are being looked after splendidly by the Hull City Council and by volunteer groups. (Yesterday all the Hull Ukrainian refugees were taken on a coach trip to York.) Nearly everyone we meet is very supportive of them, and embarrassingly complimentary to us – embarrassingly because we don’t think we’re doing anything beyond the call of ordinary human duty by sheltering a family whose home city (Nikopol) is currently being bombed. And at little real cost to ourselves. Kajsa and I after all have another house – in Sweden – to live in.

Not everyone, however, feels this way. We’re not of course surprised by opposition from the Far Right: the likes of the ‘English Patriots’ we encountered when our guests first arrived (see That’s only to be expected of them. And of those mean-minded villagers I’ve also referred to before (, objecting to any asylum-seekers being accommodated in local hotels in the countryside. I can understand where they come from, and even their arguments; even if I – emphatically – don’t share them.

But I am surprised by the arguments of those (very) few I’ve come across on the Left of British politics, whose lack of sympathy for what Kajsa and I are doing seems to be based on two main positions. The first is the suspicion that we’re only helping Ukrainians because they’re white, and privileging them over – say – Africans or Syrians or Palestinians on racist grounds. ‘Where were you when the Somalis sought refuge in Britain?’ To which my reply would be that we would have been willing, indeed eager, to put them up, but weren’t asked to; partly because – and this is the government’s fault, not ours – they had far more difficulty acquiring visas to come; which is why so many of them are being imprisoned in detention centres, or drowned in the English Channel, or (prospectively) shovelled out to Rwanda; this despite the welcome that they would undoubtedly have received (albeit patchily) in Britain.

I’m sure that the preference given to Ukrainians over most other species of refugee by the British Home Office is partly based on their ethnicity, and on the nature of the regime that is at present oppressing them. Russophobia has a long pedigree in British history. (Afghans, the other ‘favoured nation’ asylum-wise, have a similar advantage; in their case of having helped British forces against the dreadful Taliban.) In addition, it is possible to draw a distinction between people who are suddenly and dramatically being bombed from the air, and those who are being oppressed in more gradual and subtle ways. But in any case, surely we shouldn’t withdraw sympathy and help from one group of refugees, simply because we think other groups might deserve it more. Or because of the selection made for us – albeit on dubious moral grounds – by our government.

The other reason for the lack of sympathy from the Left that we ‘hosts’ occasionally sense may be the latter’s doubts about the justice of the Ukrainians’ cause. These mainly rest on the belief that Putin’s war was at least in part provoked by Rightists in Ukraine (‘Nazis’), and by pressure from the ‘West’ – the EU, NATO, and behind them all the USA – to draw Ukraine away from Mother Russia, and so to weaken and even destroy that great nation. There is undoubtedly something to be said for this view; that is, in support of the idea that there was and is pressure from elements in the West to change Russia and her relations with her neighbours. Not that Putin has much right to complain of plots to undermine him, in view of his subvert interference in British (and American – and probably others’) politics that is being revealed currently.

These things are complicated. But in any case none of this should have any bearing on our support for people who are the undoubted victims of a terrible and aggressive war, for which they at least bear no responsibility.

About bernardporter2013

Retired academic, author, historian.
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