“Nobody believed even two weeks ago that we had a chance against Russia. But we will win because even a one million people army can do nothing against 40 million people who fight like lions.”
The words of Larysa Moore, a Ukrainian woman living in Southwark, rang out at a demonstration of support and solidarity on Odessa Street, a quiet residential road in Rotherhithe named after the Ukrainian Black Sea port on Sunday.
Organised by local man John Taylor, the demonstration drew about 40 people bearing yell0w-and-blue placards and flags to the pavement outside the Ship and Whale Pub on a cold bright day.
Ms Moore added: “The main thing Putin doesn’t understand and he cannot accept is that if we want to join NATO, if we want to do this or that, it’s our decision. You don’t need to tell us what to do. But they think we are [a] brother nation and we need to be joined with Russia and to be in the Soviet Union. This is very painful.”
She told the crowd defiantly that “Our boys are ready to die and send [the Russian] warships to go wherever they want to go, but not to give up.”
Ms Moore, who is married to Southwark Aquatics chairman Andy, said: “Thank you everyone that is here to support my country. We are very emotional and very upset and horrified because I have family and friends back home. This is scary when you call them every morning and try to find out ‘is everybody alive? Is everybody safe?'”
She thanked the British people and government for their support for Ukraine against the Russian invasion, and neighbouring eastern European countries. Her emotional speech ended in a spontaneous round of applause from the gathered crowd.
Odessa has come under attack from the Russian military, with reports of ships off the coast being shelled in recent days. There were also reports of Ukrainian troops on the small Zmiinyi (Snake) Island heroically defending the position under heavy fire, although their actual fate is unclear.
In Rotherhithe, event organiser Mr Taylor said: “From Odessa Street on the Thames we send a message of sympathy and admiration to Odessa on the Black Sea…
“We hope that people in Odessa can actually see this message of solidarity. From what we read it appears that the Ukrainian army is putting up determined resistance and they have a very good cause to fight for.”
Former MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark Sir Simon Hughes told the assembled crowd of his efforts to promote democracy in Ukraine in the years after the fall of the Soviet Union. Hughes praised the courage of Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky, who has stayed in Kyiv even as it comes under attack from the Russian invading force. “He is doing a most amazing job of leading his people and inspiring his people,” Hughes said.
Referring to Ms Moore, he added: “Our friend referred to the right of Ukraine to choose its own destiny. It is doing so in the most amazingly brave way.”
Many Russians have been appalled by the actions of their government and have taken to the streets in protest, despite the danger they face from an oppressive police who are empowered to crack down on dissent. And Ms Moore said that in spite of the invasion, she and her fellow Ukrainians were “not against” Russian people.
She said: “We love these people, we want to be friends. We want to keep our independence. We want our country to live the way we want to live.”
If you would like to support a local organisation helping people fleeing the war in Ukraine, you can donate to the Lewisham Polish Centre. The centre is supporting refugees who have crossed the border into Poland. It is raising money to send items to refugee centres in the country. Learn more here.