Cardiff protest demands a more open policy for Ukrainian refugees

Hundreds of citizens gathered at the Senedd to protest Russia’s unfolding invasion and display their support for Ukrainians while discontent has been raised amid Cardiff over UK visa-based refugee policy.

Participants condemned the movement of Russian forces into Ukraine and called on ” STOP the WAR”

Around 300 people rallied at the Senedd on Monday to show solidarity with Ukrainians following Russia’s invasion into their country, while demanding the British government change its visa-based refugee policy.

Many protestors were draped in Ukrainian flags, and held up Ukraine’s yellow and blue banners with slogans like “STOP the WAR”, “We Stand with Ukraine”, and “Help Ukrainian Refugees”. 

Welsh-born Labour Senedd member Mick Antoniw delivered a speech to criticize the British government’s policy of granting entry to Ukrainian refugees only with a visa.

“The current policy for Ukrainian refugees is ‘totally unacceptable’. It is preventing many people from actually gaining access to the UK and seeking safety even when they have family here,” said Mr. Antoniw, claiming there are too many restrictions and bureaucracy to let refugees come in.

Mr.Antoniw, the Welsh government’s most senior legal adviser, has significant roots in Ukraine, having been brought up in a community which brought the country’s culture to the UK. 

Mr. Antoniw also highly praised Wales as “a proud nation of sanctuary” during his speech and said the Welsh government is taking great efforts to help Ukrainian refugees, which is at odds with the British government’s refugee policy.

Downing Street announced changes of UK visa rules for Ukrainian refugees last Sunday. According to the new policy, the visas are available only to spouses, unmarried partners of at least two years, parents, or their children if one is under 18, or adult relatives who are also carers.

The revised visa rules for Ukrainians have triggered strong criticism as opponents say only “immediate family members” of British nationals to seek sanctuary in the UK from the war falls short of expectations.

The shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper described the changes to the revised visa rules as “shameful”, as she suggested that many Ukrainian close relatives of those British nationals would not be covered by the updated rules.

Protestors expressed their discontent with the existing visa arrangements. Polish expatriate Grzegorz Gornicki showed opposition to Britain’s visa-based refugee policy, which the European Union, including Poland, no longer requires for Ukrainian refugees to enter the country. 

“The British government is not doing enough to make it easier for people from Ukraine to come,” said Grzegorz, “They are hard-working people, and if they settled in, they would not undermine the UK’s economy and security.”

Gornicki thought the Ukrainian refugees fleeing the country should be visa-free to enter the UK

Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price, who visited Ukraine “to show solidarity” with the country last week,  also delivered a speech at the rally. 

He claimed that the UK Government’s sanctions are so far insufficient, urging ministers to turn the sanctions into a total economic embargo on energy imports from Russia. “We need to paralyze the Russian. We need to stop the Russian economy from functioning completely,” he said.

Mr. Price denounced Putin’s “brutal” invasion and mobilized the masses to raise their voice for the Ukrainian people in his speech. “Our voices can be heard by the Ukrainian people. Our voices can be heard deeply by the bunker of the Kremlin as well,” said Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price at the rally, “One thing Putin cannot crush and that is the hope and the spirit of the Ukrainian people.”

Ukrainian communities and expatriates joined the event to speak out for their homeland country. Shouts of “Glory for Ukraine” rang out from the Ukrainian crowd as soon as the speech reached its climax.  

Svitlana Phillips, of Voice of Ukraine Wales, expressed great concern over her Ukrainian fellows’ dreadful situation. “There is no word to describe almost half a million people to be displaced already. They are running refugees. They are running for their lives. There are casualties. The raw missiles are shooting at ordinary people and killing them.”

But she also conveyed “thanks” to the Senedd for its proposal to accept the refugees. “I’m sure that allows people to do everything they can do to accommodate refugees from Ukraine,” said the Ukrainian chairwoman. 

Participants held up banner reading “Long Live Ukraine” in Welsh

Joae Csehaily from Ukraine said his parents and grandparents stuck in Ukraine are in peril. “They’ve struggled there so we try to help from here as much as we can.” He added that Ukrainians here are also sending different supplies like helmets, armors, and bulletproof jackets to the Ukraine frontline for their army.

Prior to the campaign, people in Cardiff had already voiced their solidarity with the Ukrainian people. The Senedd was lit up in the colors of Ukrainian blue and yellow last Thursday to show Wales’s support for the people of Ukraine.

Cllr Huw Thomas, Leader of Cardiff Council, made a statement last Thursday that Cardiff show solidarity with the Ukrainian people and urgently call on a simple sanctuary route.

In the first pro-Ukraine campaign in Cardiff held last Sunday, the organizer Andrii Zhuravskyi suggested that citizens use social media to fight against misinformation and raise more public attention to helping Ukrainian people. “Showing the severity of the situation could bring more people to take direct action to support Ukraine and prevent further aggression escalated from Russia,” said the young Ukrainian. 

Earlier this week Wales First Minister Mark Drakeford has said the UK will need to “go beyond” its current visa arrangements for those fleeing conflict in Ukraine.

Lindsay, the former Senedd member, however, said that it was a tough nut to crack to change the visa policy. “The Welsh government could challenge and have a great impact on Downing Street’s policy change if the Scottish and Northern Irish Parliament were to join forces. Visa legislation is controlled by the central government.”

Overall statistics about Ukrainian refugees