Hundreds of people attended a special vigil held in Barnstaple on Monday night to show North Devonâ€™s solidarity with the people of Ukraine after last weekâ€™s Russian invasion.Â
The North Devon Stands With Ukraine vigil was organised by the North Devon Liberal Democrat Party. The Liberal Democrats invited local politicians of all parties to attend and take part.Â
Those attending the vigil handed out daffodils and candles, and many had flags and banners.
The leader of North Devon Council, Liberal Democrat, David Worden spoke to those gathered in Barnstaple Square, he said: â€œThank you everyone for coming to this vigil. Crowds are gathering all over the world in vigils like this to denounce the unprovoked and unjustified attack on Ukraine. Putin has unleashed his terrifying arsenal with a full-scale assault on the country and the Ukrainian people are left bravely fighting alone this tyrant. The West did little when Russia invaded Crimea and now Putin believes that he can do what he likes.
â€œJust over a decade ago, I spent some time in Russia. I was invited by my friend Rev. Ian Spencer to join him speaking in different churches in central Russia. It wasnâ€™t in the tourist areas but I got to see the real Russia and I was welcomed by the Russian people. They proved to be excellent and friendly hosts, although we saw that so many people had alcohol problems and were addicted to Vodka. All my hosts seemed to live near the top of large tower blocks in very small accommodation. I stayed in places like Samara, Talliatin, Penza and Kazan. I made many friends there and I spent many evenings chatting about North Devon and I fear for them as well as the people of Ukraine as they or other members of their families have relatives in the Russian army.Â
â€œIt is easy to blame all Russians but the ordinary people are not the enemy â€“ it is Putin and his followers who are causing this blood bath of innocent people. We have seen groups in Russia protesting against the war but it is costly to do so because of the KGB and many are immediately arrested. This morning on BBC a reporter said that 6,000 peace protesters have been detained by the authorities. Russian people do not enjoy the freedoms which we have in the West. The secret police are everywhere and many live in fear.Â
â€œWhile there I met the pastor of a secret underground church who feared that President Putin would one day arrest Christians like happened in the past. We take our democracy and freedoms for granted in the West and Ukraine has also had those freedoms. If Putin is successful, they will be forced to endure what the Russians have. One Russian put a message yesterday on one of my Russian friendâ€™s Facebook walls with words to the effect that Prayer is our strength in these times. Instead of going against the authorities we are praying that they should have wisdom, stop the war and we are praying for protection for people.
â€œIt isnâ€™t the general Russian population that wants this but a power-hungry leader and those who do his bidding. One of my Russian friends Ruslan is married to Oxana who is from Ukraine. Many Russians have Ukrainian relatives or vice versa. Another of my Russian friends Dasha now lives with her husband in London with their two children. They visited family in Russia last week because it was half term but fortunately, they managed to get back to the UK okay. It is a worrying time for Russians as well as Ukrainians and this will become even more so as their soldiers are returned in body bags or badly wounded.Â
â€œHaving said donâ€™t blame the ordinary Russian people, this unprovoked attack on Ukraine is an act of evil, imperilling as it does the relative peace and security that Europe has enjoyed for so long. The attack by one nation on a free, democratic country has rightly brought outrage, sanctions, and condemnation. We lament with the people of Ukraine, and we pray for the innocent, the frightened and those who have lost loved ones, homes, and family.Â
â€œWe need to continually call for a ceasefire and the withdrawal of Russian forces as well as wide-ranging efforts to ensure peace, stability and security. We urge all those involved in this conflict to do everything they can to immediately end the hostilities, return to the negotiating table, protect all human life. We know that another way is possible.
â€œWe have seen the images of frightened Ukrainian people in their thousands heading for the borders of neighbouring countries taking very little with them. Remember it is freezing cold in Eastern Europe at this time of the year. We have seen women and children leaving behind their men to fight for their homeland â€“ what heart break it is for them not knowing whether they will ever see their loved ones again. We have witnessed the bombs landing, not just on military targets but also on blocks of flats, in residential areas and the destruction of many vehicles. The hospitals are already full of wounded soldiers and civilians. I saw a Ukrainian MP yesterday on Sky News talking about her constituency. She said that missiles had hit a childrenâ€™s hospital and also a blood donorâ€™s clinic. The devastation is already alarming and is set to get worse, especially as Putin is threatening to use nuclear weapons.Â
â€œThe people of Ukraine need medicines, food and other supplies. Women and children need to be allowed into other countries without the normal visa, without hindrance. Our government and other governments are beginning to take action with regard to sanctions but I would urge them to do absolutely everything they can to stop this conflict and to reduce suffering. I have never been to Kiev, although I know my son has but as Leader of North Devon Council and a Liberal Democrat I stand firmly behind the Ukrainian people. I am sure members of other political parties feel the same. The Ukrainian people are fighting for not only their liberty and freedom against tyranny but for the whole free world. Thousands are willing to lay down their lives for their homeland. As it has been said we may also have to make sacrifices because of the sanctions but they will be minimal compared to what the people of Ukraine are making right now.
â€œPresident Putin, I call on you to stop this aggression, to recall your troops, to stop the bloodbath, to stop attacking a sovereign nation, to stop bombing residential areas, to stop isolating Russia, to stop the killing of innocent men, women and children, to come to your senses. If you donâ€™t this could escalate to a world war and civilization as we know it could be destroyed. So, we call for peace.Â
â€œTo the people of Ukraine, I salute you, I stand with you, all those gathered here support you. Your bravery is amazing, you are fighting for democracy, most of the world stands with you, you are fighting against evil and tyranny. I pray that miracles will happen that despite overwhelming odds you will be successful in defending your nation, democracy and liberty.â€Â
Councillor Worden was followed by other speakers, including, Ian Roome, Robbie Mack, Caroline Leaver, Gerald Sable, John Patrinos and Pru Maskell.
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