When news of the Queen’s death came through, I was part of a cross-party delegation of seven MPs heading for the overnight train to Kyiv. My last visit there had been two weeks before the invasion in February, and although the change in Ukraine since then was almost unimaginable, it was heartening to see some aspects of city life creeping back to normal, even if air raid sirens still blared out almost daily.
The sirens are not the only reminder. The war is on everyone’s mind. A short drive to the suburbs brought home the reality of Russia’s illegal war. I visited Hostomel, Bucha Raion — a town so critical in the early advance on the capital — and witnessed the destruction of homes, businesses and infrastructure. The brutality is almost unspeakable.
It’s no secret that many Ukrainians hold our former prime minister in high regard. Boris Johnson and his government did get the calls on military, economic and political support for Ukraine right. That is why my party has always been in lockstep with the government — and the other parties — on Ukraine. It is a rare issue of political unity.
It was this message that we wanted to convey to our Ukrainian colleagues. In meetings with MPs, ministers, members of the Ukrainian armed forces and even President Zelensky, each of us — seven MPs representing four political parties — drove home the message that despite our new prime minister, our support is as strong as ever.
This matters not only because Ukrainians had some nervousness about what the change of government might mean, but also as we start to hear extreme voices from the left and the right across Europe start to call for Ukrainian concessions as winter approaches.
The calls ignore the fact that one cannot negotiate a lasting peace with Putin. A glance at his record in Syria and Ukraine dismantles that notion. They also ignore that Ukraine does not want to live under Russian rule. Just look at the joy with which Ukrainians greet their armed forces in the towns they liberate.
And lastly, we should not be conceding to a dictator’s war on liberalism, democracy and the principle of territorial sovereignty. The war would stop if Russia stopped fighting. If Ukraine stopped fighting, it would cease to exist. I know which side I’m on.
Stewart McDonald is MP for Glasgow South and SNP spokesman for defence