LONDON — The road in front of Russia’s embassy in London has not only been painted in the colors of Ukraine’s flag, but on Friday it also was rebranded with the name of the invaded country’s capital: “Kyiv Road.”
The thoroughfare has been the subject of much attention after activists and London traffic helped to paint a giant Ukrainian flag outside the embassy in the lead-up to the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of the country.
“I just thought, if I get enough paint down there, the cars can create the flag,” said Ben Stewart, one of the founders of the activist group Led by Donkeys. He arrived outside the embassy early Thursday with a throng of volunteers equipped with four wheelbarrows and 70 gallons of blue and yellow paint, ready to send a message to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Sure enough, the volunteers tipped the wheelbarrows filled with paint onto the road and spread it with brooms before the London traffic did the rest, smearing it out to make a giant Ukrainian flag directly in front of the embassy. A day later, Westminster City Council said in a statement that it was renaming a stretch of Bayswater Road to Kyiv Road to “show the people of Ukraine that their struggle has a visible place in our City.”
Countries around the world this week are marking a year of Russia’s war in Ukraine. Paris lit the Eiffel Tower in Ukraine’s colors. In Wellington, New Zealand, people threw sunflowers into the sea. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who recently hosted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, led a minute’s silence outside 10 Downing Street on Friday accompanied by the Ukrainian ambassador and Ukrainian soldiers who are in Britain for training.
King Charles III issued a statement saying that Ukrainians had suffered “unimaginably from an unprovoked full-scale attack on their nation” and that he hoped “the outpouring of solidarity from across the globe may bring not only practical aid, but also strength from the knowledge that, together, we stand united.”
But it may be the painting of the newly named Kyiv Road that is the most memorable marker of the anniversary in Britain.
“Like many people, we are deeply moved by the resistance and determination of Ukrainian people,” said Stewart, 48. “There’s obviously many manifestations of solidarity. It’s right that Joe Biden and Rishi Sunak go to Kyiv, but there’s so much support by people and you rarely see examples of civil solidarity, and we wanted to show that London and Britain stand with Ukraine.”
Britain regards itself as playing a leading role in the support Ukraine receives, and its military assistance is second only to contributions from the United States.
Britain, however, has done much less than many European countries in taking in Ukrainian refugees. The government, under Prime Minister Boris Johnson, launched a DIY program that required Britons to identify individual refugees they wanted to sponsor. Some Britons have been willing hosts: One man interviewed by The Washington Post even flew to the Ukraine-Poland border bearing Cadbury bars. But there have been reports of an increase in evictions and homelessness among Ukrainian refugees.
At the political level, support for backing Ukraine in the conflict has remained strong, with lawmakers from all parties showing a level of unity that hasn’t been seen often in the topsy-turvy post-Brexit years.
Bronwen Maddox, the director of the London think tank Chatham House, said: “Politicians want to keep supporting Ukraine out of principle, out of recognition of national feeling, and in the muddle and aftermath of Brexit, this is something that Britain wants to do and can do well, as part of the European and Western contribution, at what is a slightly confused and fretful point in British politics.”
Surveys show the British public’s support for Ukraine has remained relatively robust, even while many people think the war has contributed to a cost-of-living crisis here. That sentiment may not have been tested as much as it could have, with natural gas prices easing in recent weeks.
A poll published Friday by YouGov found that support in the country was high, although slightly down from last summer. And although Britons overwhelmingly want Ukraine to win the war, they also are more likely to say they want to maintain current levels of support, rather than increase it.
Solidarity with Ukraine ✊— Led By Donkeys (@ByDonkeys) February 23, 2023
(Russian Embassy, London) pic.twitter.com/efRXKgDuqV
The painting of the street did not go off without hiccups, Stewart said. Four volunteers on the “blue paint team” were arrested by the London Metropolitan Police for obstructing traffic.
“But, luckily, people from the yellow paint team ran over and helped out with the blue paint,” Stewart said. “And five minutes after they tipped the paint, we had a Ukrainian flag.”
Motorists were, at first, hesitant to drive over the paint, Stewart said, even as protesters held aloft signs that read: “Ukrainian Solidarity Protest — Drive slowly — Washable paint.”
But after a few vehicles went through, others followed.
War in Ukraine: What you need to know
The latest: Ukraine’s air defenses shot down more than 30 missiles and drones in a new round of Russian air attacks overnight, the army’s commander said. Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the U.S. “won’t let” Putin impose his will on other nations.
The fight: Russia took control of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, where thousands of Russian and Ukrainian soldiers died in the war’s longest and bloodiest battle, in late May. But holding the city will be difficult. The Wagner Group, responsible for the fight and victory in Bakhmut, is allegedly leaving and being replaced by the Russian army.
The upcoming counteroffensive: After a rainy few months left the ground muddy, sticky and unsuitable for heavy vehicles in southern Ukraine, temperatures are rising — and with them, the expectations of a long-awaited counteroffensive against occupying Russian forces.
The frontline: The Washington Post has mapped out the 600-mile front line between Ukrainian and Russian forces.
How you can help: Here are ways those in the United States can support the Ukrainian people as well as what people around the world have been donating.
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