How Russians who oppose the war celebrated ‘Day of Russia’ in London
Living in London is tough when you’re a 24-year-old emigre from Russia, newly married to a Ukrainian, amidst the ongoing war. The rent prices have increased by as much as 20%. The reference checks can quickly become a nightmare for foreigners without an address record.
As my wife Juliet and I finished our yet another prospective viewing this last Saturday in the area of Holland Park, exhausted from a month-long search process, we noticed people standing on the sidewalk opposite the Ukrainian embassy in London.
A large table stood in the middle, decorated with Ukrainian flags, history books in English (seemingly trying to illuminate Putin’s flawed sense of Ukrainian identity), T-shirts with slogans (“RUSSIAN MILITARY SHIP, GO FUCK YOURSELF!”), pins in Ukrainian blue-yellow bicolour with a heart in the middle. Passersby stopped to browse through the items. You could get anything you wanted — “Just take it,” the thirty-something woman with long ginger hair and a denim jacket told me — ”as long as you donated some money to Ukraine Refugee Fund.” I placed a pin on my shirt and sent ten pounds via Apple Pay.
“Are you the organizer?” I asked the woman who had talked to me before.
“No, I am just a volunteer,” she replied in Ukrainian, from which I only understood the word volunteer. My Ukrainian is still at a caveman level one year into our marriage. My wife quickly came to my rescue and asked the woman where we could donate clothes. An answer followed, which I responded to with polite nods, but understood only one word — zaraz, meaning now. I made a mental note to myself to keep learning Ukrainian.
“By the way, there’s a Russian protest tomorrow. They meet at Wellington Arch,” the woman said, studying me closely as if trying to decipher whether I was any good a conversationalist (I wasn’t). “You should come.”
Giving in to our innate curiosity and a desire to space out from thoughts about square metres, deposits, and council taxes, we did.
At exactly noon the following day, on Sunday, on “Day of Russia” — a national holiday in the country with an extra Monday off — we arrived at the…