Defiant Ukrainians sing and wave flags on ‘Unity Day’
Published by The Daily Mail (17th February, 2022)
Ukraine celebrated the hastily-declared Unity Day yesterday with passionate words from the president, patriotic events across the land and more than 50 MPs singing the national anthem outside parliament in defiance of the Russian troops massed at their border.
President Volodymyr Zelensky demanded the combative display of patriotism late on Monday to mark the day that Western intelligence had warned might be chosen by the Kremlin to launch an invasion of his country.
Yet the response was muted from his beleaguered fellow citizens – who woke up fearing the worst, waved a few flags and carried on with their lives, trapped wearily in the midst of a destructive geo-political struggle that has gripped them for years.
Zelensky called on Ukrainians to ‘show the whole world our unity’ to counter fears and scaremongering over a possible attack by Russian president Vladimir Putin.
The former comedian’s demand led to flags appearing on streets and in windows, school pupils singing the anthem clad in traditional embroidered clothes, special prayers at St Sophia’s Cathedral in Kyiv and Ukrainian films shown in cinemas.
‘We are all different but we are united by one desire – to live in peace, happily, as one family – and we have a right to it because we are at home, we are in Ukraine,’ said Zelensky, during five hours on television showing celebrities and politicians discussing Ukrainian unity in face of the destabilising Russian aggression.
The president, wearing a blue shirt, also published a selfie on Instagram alongside his wife Olena clad in a yellow jersey to reflect Ukraine’s national colours – then asked everyone to post similarly-patriotic pictures on social media.
Some of the country’s best-known football players – including Andriy Yarmolenko of West Ham and Everton’s costly new signing Vitaliy Mykolenko – responded with a video in which they told of their pride in Ukraine.
British ambassador Melinda Simmons tweeted: ‘The UK and Ukraine share fundamental values of peace, freedom, democracy and respect. Our continued support for Ukraine is unwavering.’
Later Zelensky flew to Mariupol – the major port seen as a key possible target for Putin – where he met soldiers on the frontline facing Moscow-backed separatists. ‘It’s a great honour to be a president of such people, of such a state,’ he said.
Further along the frontline in Severodonetsk, a town in the government-controlled part of Luhansk region, residents stretched a 650ft blue-and-yellow flag across the street as they marched along in a display of their loyalties.
Zelensky only announced the celebratory day on Monday. But there was no public holiday, dampening the support, while some people said they had not heard about the plan and others had mixed reactions.
‘I don’t see the point of creating this show to please Western politicians,’ said one pensioner in Kyiv.
Others were more enthusiastic. ‘Unity Day helps unite the people,’ said Vladyslav, 19, serving in the National Guard.
Liydmyla, a 48-year-old housewife who said she is avoiding watching the news on television since it made her too ’emotional’, felt her nation needed such events. ‘It’s the right thing to do – we are being attacked, so we need to stay strong and united.’
Earlier the government said the cyber-attack that hit the ministry of defence, armed forces and several major banks on Tuesday was the biggest in Ukraine’s history. It was traced to sources in Russia, China, Czech Republic and Uzbekistan.
The shutdown, which lasted five hours, was backed by a foreign security service, said Ukraine’s cyber-security chief. Russia has denied any responsibility.