Last Friday afternoon, on March 4, students flocked to Bristo Square to show their support for the Ukrainian people at a non-political rally for peace and unity. The demonstration came about as a response to the University’s silence on the matter, despite Kyiv and Edinburgh being twinned cities for over thirty years.
Speaking to The Student, one of the organisers explained the initial reasoning behind the event:
“The aim of the rally at Bristo Square was to gather support of the University community for the Ukrainian people in light of the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine and to provide Ukrainian students within the community with an opportunity to come and grieve together, to share their stories, and to call on the University to cut its ties from Russian institutions and be explicit in naming the war what it is – a war.”
At the rally, the leaders shared powerful, personal stories about their own experiences and their families who were in Ukraine at the time, who were suffering through the brutal invasion that plunged an innocent country into the unknown.
Despite the close connection with Ukrainians in Edinburgh, the university has maintained a careful position in its response, describing the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a “situation” in a statement.
The leaders of the protest pointed to the Ukrainian flag flying high at the top of Teviot Row House, stating that it was a weak, artificial attempt by the university to show solidarity and keep up appearances.
The leaders’ spokesperson expressed the further collective dismay towards the University’s shallow response:
“We were spurred to organise the rally after being disappointed in the University’s assessment of the recent events: from EUSA extending its sympathies to ‘Edinburgh students currently in, or returning from, Russia and affected regions’ and reducing Ukraine to the title of merely an ‘affected region’, to the University holding over £1 million in shares of indirect investments in Russian-related assets, including long-sanctioned Sberbank. Since then, the University has updated its statement to include its promise to review any collaborations which have ‘implications for their endowment portfolio'”.
Additionally, the demonstration leaders criticised how the university has refused the request to set up a donation box for Ukraine humanitarian aid in the Main Library, with the justification that such a move was too political. While the leaders expressed their disappointment, they did not appear surprised at this response.
Beyond demanding the end of the University’s inertia, the rally offered the opportunity to all members of the student community to donate humanitarian aid to the people of Ukraine, “including over one million Ukrainian refugees who have fled the country in the eleven days since the beginning of the invasion”.
The rally’s spokesperson told The Student that any act of support was welcomed by the community, and that it is not just financial aid that is greatly appreciated:
“We encourage our fellow students to take any kind of action they can to help us in stopping the war that has left over two thousand killed, including 36 children, and the war that has turned our families and friends into internally displaced persons and refugees.
“Call your MPs and demand they increase aid to Ukraine and call on NATO to close our skies. Donate to Ukraine-based organisations. Spread awareness of the war crimes being committed by Russia in Ukraine. Check in with your Ukrainian friends.”
The rally concluded with the leaders stating that these demonstrations and congregations will not be the end of the fight for justice in Ukraine. It is an ongoing battle and, even when the first wave of support has faded, they intend to see it through to the end.
Image courtesy of Susanna Siddell