History will judge all of us on what we did to defend freedom in Ukraine

The Scottish Parliament today marked one year of war against Ukraine. Scottish Greens external affairs spokesperson Ross Greer MSP, who has been sanctioned by Russia over his support of Ukraine, addressed parliamentarians on the party’s behalf. 

This was his speech in full:

When we came together for an emergency debate one year ago tomorrow, a forty mile long convoy of Russian troops had crossed the Belarusian border and was headed for Kyiv.

Hostomel Airport just outside of the city was under attack by Russian airborne troops as we spoke. It was abundantly clear to all of us that the Ukrainian capital and government could fall in a matter of days.

We watched the footage and saw the photos of the residents of Kyiv, civilians, preparing to fight a desperate last stand with homemade Molotov cocktails against one of the largest militaries on Earth.

Eighteen-year-old high school students were being handed rifles and given hasty instructions on how to defend their neighbourhoods.

President Zelensky was being offered evacuation by the Americans, with the prospect of setting up a government-in-exile.

His answer was that he needed ammunition, not a ride.

The weeks that followed were horrific, but Kyiv did not fall, that massive Russian convoy collapsed and retreated and it became clear that Putin’s fantasies of a swift victory would not be realised.

As the Russians withdrew, the horrors they had inflicted on Ukrainian civilians became clear.

The mayor of Hostomel Yuri Prylypko was murdered by Russian soldiers while delivering food and medicine to residents.

His body was then booby-trapped In Bucha north of Kyiv, Izyum in the east and in other towns across liberated areas torture chambers and mass graves have been discovered.

In still-occupied Skadovsk a local nurse,Tetiana Mudrenko, was executed by hanging in the town square by collaborators.

Her crime?

Telling her Russian occupiers that Skadovsk was and would remain part of Ukraine.

The past year has been horrific for the people of Ukraine. They have endured trauma we can scarcely imagine. But they have not given in.

The Kremlin’s plan was for Ukrainian independence to end in 2022.

That plan has failed. It failed at Hostomel Airport where 300 Ukrainian National Guardsmen routed Putin’s elite airborne troops.

It failed in Kherson, from where we saw the amazing footage last November of Ukrainian soldiers being greeted by cheering, crying crowds as they re-entered the city.

And it failed in Mariupol, a city almost completely destroyed and still under Russian occupation today but whose defenders fought one of the most effective defensive operations in modern urban warfare.

Without any chance of winning that battle, Ukrainian soldiers and police officers fought on for nearly three months, making their final stand at the Azovstal steel plant.

That effort held up Russian divisions many times their size and undoubtedly saved other towns and cities from a similar fate.

The Ukrainian defenders at Mariupol included the Azov Battalion, who I mentioned in my contribution this time last year. 

The Azov Battalion was founded by Neo-Nazis and whilst it is a very different organisation years after being integrated into the Ukrainian army, there is still a fascist presence.

It is uncomfortable to see soldiers of a nation whose struggle we absolutely support doing interviews while wearing fascist iconography like the Black Sun. I’m glad NATO removed their promotional photo of a Ukrainian soldier whose uniform prominently featured the Black Sun.

That is not remotely close to the most important issue in this war. And raising it shouldn’t for a second be interpreted as a lack of support for Ukraine’s struggle.

As someone on the Kremlin’s sanctions list, I hope no-one would accuse me of that.

But as a key supporter of Ukraine, the UK has a responsibility to speak some truth to our ally.

Especially when Russia is pushing the utterly disingenuous nonsense of Neo-Nazi influence as justification for their wicked invasion.

I would hope that no-one here would tolerate British soldiers wearing that kind of iconography, so we should help those we are arming to similarly make clear that it is unacceptable for their own troops.

Nonsense claims about the influence of the Azov Battalion are being used by Putin’s useful idiots here and elsewhere to undermine public support for Ukraine.

And given how long this war is sadly likely to last, we cannot give an inch to those seeking to undermine our solidarity.

Those same people often disingenuously claim that some kind of compromise needs reached - pretending that their only interest is in a peaceful end to the war.

But what would their compromise look like?

Compromise implies giving Russia something it didn’t have a year ago, something it could walk away with.

The Ukrainians have rightly made clear that they will not cede an inch of their territory to an invading power.

And what right do outside players have to tell Ukrainian citizens that the price of peace is their continuing to live under an occupying force which tortures and massacres them – which hangs civilian protestors in town squares?

Peace is the absence of violence and the presence of justice.

There would be neither of those for Ukrainians under Russian occupation. Beyond supplying the equipment needed by Ukraine’s armed forces – which the Scottish Greens support – European nations must step up our sanctions efforts and dramatically speed up our transition away from fossil fuels, robbing Putin of the geo-political weapon he has wielded for twenty years.

The UK may have only sourced a small fraction of its gas from Russia before this war, but companies here have played a key role in supporting Russia’s oil and gas sector.

I hope others were as horrified as I was by the revelation that Scottish-based Baker Hughes continued shipping equipment to Russia as late as June, months after the war began.

And I welcome the Deputy First Minister’s robust response to my request that the Scottish Government withhold grant support to a company still contributing, however indirectly, to the Russian war machine.

The people of Scotland should be proud of the solidarity shown to our Ukrainian friends.

We have welcomed a number of Ukrainian refugees far in excess of our share of the UK population.

Huge sums of money and tonnes of supplies have been collected.

And the Scottish Government is straining its limited powers in this area to make the sanctions and economic pressure on Russia as effective as possible.

It is easy for us to take freedom for granted.

There is no serious threat to our own and hasn’t been for decades.

But 30 years after the end of the Cold War and what was then claimed by some to be the irreversible forward march of democracy, we can see on our own continent how fragile freedom really is.

However peripheral our role is, history will judge all of us on what we did to defend freedom in Ukraine.

This afternoon we will unanimously declare once again that Scotland’s role is to stand in solidarity with the Ukrainian people

And to do all within our power to aid their victory.

Slava Ukraini