8 March 2022

The terrible events of the past week in Ukraine take me back to memories of more than three decades ago.

In 1988-91 I was running a charitable project giving away medical textbooks to doctors and supporting free institutions across communist Eastern Europe.  I travelled extensively throughout the region, including in parts of Ukraine, and I lived in Prague in 1991-2.

I recall very vividly the bleakness and oppression of ordinary life behind the Iron Curtain. In Czechoslovakia (as it was) at that time, if you wanted some cheese you had to go to a shop under the single word MLEKO (milk). If you wanted some sausage you went to a shop named MASO (meat).

You did, that is, unless you had hard currency or were a senior member of the Communist party. For them, special shops existed, and special rules applied.  

Now Putin is determined to impose his own authoritarian vision on Ukraine. His invasion is a dreadful unprovoked act of war.

But in standing behind Ukraine, we are not only supporting a sovereign, free and independent European state.  We are standing up for free institutions everywhere, and for the most fundamental principle of freedom:  that people should be able to mix, to speak, to worship, to be educated, to bring up their families and to prosper as they see fit under the rule of law, without threat or tyranny.

I therefore welcome the energetic and resolute response made by our own Government, not least in helping to stiffen spines and bring other nations together in a grand coalition.

Asset freezes; sanctions; trade and export controls; bans on Russian bank access to markets, credit and the SWIFT payment system; bans on Russian participation in football and other sports events; a ban on Aeroflot, the national airline... the list of measures is long, and ever-expanding.

Progress at the outset of each element is often slower than one would like, because of the need to maintain the unity and integrity of the coalition.  But both the EU and the USA have shown that they too are very fully engaged.

One area where our Government needs to do more is in accepting Ukrainian refugees. But I have no doubt that we will hear more positive news on this matter too in due course.  

We must hope every day that Ukraine can continue to withstand this horrendous assault, and redouble our efforts in their support.


First published in the Hereford Times and Ross Gazette