Crowds gather in UK to support Ukraine on second anniversary of Russian invasion

Crowds have gathered across the UK to show support for Ukraine and pay their respects to the fallen on the second anniversary of the Russian invasion.

Commemorations on Saturday in London began with an interfaith prayer service at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in Mayfair.

Meanwhile, in Scotland, political and religious leaders attended a service at Edinburgh Castle to mark the anniversary.

Speaking ahead of the service in London, the leading Ukrainian Catholic bishop in the UK, Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski, said his compatriots are “resolved to win the war” and have experienced a “two-year unending nightmare”.

The service will be followed by a gathering at Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park organised by Ukrainian community organisations and a procession to Trafalgar Square, where an afternoon vigil will be held.

In Edinburgh, First Minister Humza Yousaf delivered a reading and laid a wreath at the Scottish National War Memorial alongside Andrii Kuslii, of the consulate of Ukraine.

The service was also attended by Ukrainian citizens living in Scotland and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Rev Sally Foster-Fulton.

Humza Yousaf attends a memorial wreath laying service
First Minister Humza Yousaf attends a memorial wreath-laying service at Edinburgh Castle (Jane Barlow/PA)

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began on February 24 2022 and followed the Kremlin’s military intervention in the eastern Donbas region and its annexation of Crimea in 2014.

The Ukrainian Catholic Church said the “vital” events it had helped organise on Saturday would “honour the resilience of Ukraine” and show unwavering support for its fight against Russia.

The church added: “This event, organised by the British-Ukrainian community in London and the wider UK, is one of the most crucial Ukrainian events in London this year.

Rula Lenska court case
Actress Rula Lenska attended the service (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Paper angels have been hung from the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral’s balcony – one for each of the 528 Ukrainian children killed during the conflict, according to Ukraine’s prosecutor general.

Referring to the paper angels, Bishop Nowakowski said during the service: “These paper angels are a remembrance of those young lives and the families who are grieving.”

In an opening prayer, the bishop and the congregation called for those “overtaken by a spirit of deception and violence” to “open their eyes”.

The leader of the Ukrainian Catholic community in the UK added that Ukrainians “do not want to give up hope”.

“Ukrainians are very resilient and anyone who has been in the last two years to Ukraine can attest to the resilience of the Ukrainian people and their high morale,” he said.

Among those attending the prayer service at the cathedral were actresses Maureen Lipman and Rula Lenska and politicians including the housing minister, Felicity Buchan, and Nickie Aiken, the Conservative MP for Cities of London and Westminster.

Ms Buchan condemned the “illegal and barbaric” Russian invasion as she spoke to the congregation.

The Kensington MP said: “I am proud to wear this brooch on my chest, the colour of Ukraine, and I am also proud to call so many of you in this congregation my friends.”

Vatican ambassador Archbishop Miguel Maury Buendia was also among the dignitaries.

Eduard Fesko, the charge d’affaires at the Ukrainian embassy to the UK, said Russia’s invasion would be “forever etched in our memory”.

Speaking during the service, he said: “For how much longer will this nightmare last?

“Everybody wanted it to be over as soon as possible – but here we are, two years later, and there is still no end in sight.”

He added that Ukraine’s continued resistance “inspired some confidence”.

Many of the guests wore blue and yellow ribbons or sunflowers, a symbol of peace and resilience, with others carrying Ukrainian flags.

The interfaith prayers were accompanied by the singing of Ukrainian spiritual anthems by the cathedral choir – with many of those in the congregation visibly emotional.

Bishop Nowakowski said the mood was sombre but praised the thousands of British citizens who have opened their homes to displaced Ukrainians, with more than 280,000 refugees given accommodation so far.

“We also have gratitude to the UK Government and to the Opposition, who unanimously have supported Ukraine and Ukrainians,” he added.

The Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Family helped set up a welcome centre on its Mayfair premises, and gives advice to refugees on how to register with the NHS and learn English among other services.

Bishop Nowakowski said: “I think that religion and faith have played a very big part of keeping people resilient, providing them with a place to be comforted, a place to be able to mourn the loss of their loved ones and also just to be able to go somewhere and pray.”

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