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Fri, 14 June 2024

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Solidarity with Ukrainian miners on the frontline of democracy in Europe

Mick Antoniw approaching the Ukraine border

4 min read

Two years ago, I was in Kyiv with politicians and trade union leaders.

Russia was threatening to invade the country and Ukraine was preparing for war, although no one believed it could really happen in this 21st century. Shortly after we met Vitali Klitschko, Kyiv’s boxer turned mayor, we were “very strongly” advised by the Foreign Office that we should get out of the country urgently.

We got the last flight out of Kyiv that night. The next evening, the rockets started landing in Ukraine, Russian troops landed near Kyiv, columns of tanks crossed the border. The country was at war.  

Ukraine must be given the weapons necessary to defeat Putin. We pay financially; Ukrainians pay in blood

Last month I was back in Kyiv with Wayne Thomas from the National Union of Mineworkers and Carwyn Donovan of trade union Bectu, both former miners. We met with the Ukrainian miners’ unions and delivered three vehicles plus supplies for frontline defenders, drones, night vision equipment, clothing and battlefield medical supplies. 

This year is the 40th anniversary of the miners’ strike in Britain. The delivery was a gesture of solidarity with the Ukrainian miners who had supported Welsh and UK miners all those years ago. It took four days to get to Kyiv, driving from Pontypridd, through the channel tunnel, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and then Poland to the Ukrainian border – a distance of 1,700 miles. 

Despite having defeated the Russians to the north and east of the city, the mood is more sombre now. The determination is still there but, as we were repeatedly told, Ukraine is fighting against the world’s second most powerful army for its survival, its language, culture and identity.  

The reason is the uncertainty of support from America and the West. Not so much in terms of money and verbal support but in what is practically needed – weapons and ammunition. 

We were repeatedly told of the need for air cover, long-range missiles and artillery ammunition. Avdiivka in the South East is now occupied. It is probably just a Pyrrhic victory for the Russians, more symbolic than practical, but symbolism counts for a lot. The other request is for the drones we’ve been bringing over, particular thermal drones.  

Despite the war, culture survives and has become even more important. We met with the artistic directors of the Kyiv National Ballet and Opera Theatre. They are still performing. Musicians, ballet dancers, singers return from the front line to perform. Internationally renowned ballet dancer Oleksandr Shapoval, who joined the Ukrainian army at the onset of war, fought on the frontline and was killed in September 2022. His photo adorns the walls of the theatre. 

They were rehearsing for Macbeth and we were treated to a performance of Bolero. The theatre can take 1,300 but each performance is limited to 450 – the capacity of the air raid shelter. Music and culture bind Ukrainians together. Young men in uniforms heading off to the front are everywhere.  

We handed over the three vehicles, which have since been camouflage-painted and are now in use on the frontline. The Ukrainian and Welsh flags have been kept on the vehicles – a reminder of Welsh and Ukrainian solidarity. 

The miners thank us and thank Wales for our continued support. These were the 13th, 14th and 15th vehicles we’ve delivered on behalf of the Senedd Friends of Ukraine, a cross-party group led by Blaenau Gwent member Alun Davies. We thank the miners and our other friends in Ukraine, reminding them that they are the frontline of democracy in Europe, fighting a new Russian fascism. They cannot fail. 

Ukraine must be given the weapons necessary to defeat Putin. We pay financially; Ukrainians pay in blood. But if Ukraine were to fall, there is a much greater price we would all be paying across Europe and internationally that would go on for generations.  

As the Ukrainian miners drive off, they shout out: “Slava Ukraini!” Glory to Ukraine, glory to her heroes! We now begin collecting for our next deliveries. 

Mick Antoniw is Member of the Senedd for Pontypridd and Counsel General for Wales.

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