Home News London activists paint Ukraine’s flag in front of Russian Embassy

London activists paint Ukraine’s flag in front of Russian Embassy


LONDON — Ben Stewart arrived outside the Russian Embassy early on Thursday morning with a throng of volunteers, four wheelbarrows and 70 gallons of blue and yellow paint, ready to send a message to Russian President Vladimir Putin on the anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine.

“I just thought, if I get enough paint down there, the cars can create the flag,” said Stewart, one the founders of the activist group Led by Donkeys, told The Washington Post.

Sure enough, the volunteers tipped the paint into the road, and the London traffic did the rest, spreading it out to make a giant Ukrainian flag directly in front of the embassy.

Countries around the world this week are marking a year of Russia’s war. Paris lit up the Eiffel Tower. In Wellington New Zealand, people threw sunflowers into the water. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who recently hosted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, will lead a minute’s silence on Friday.

But it may be the flag stunt that is the most memorable anniversary marker in Britain.

“Tomorrow is the first anniversary of Putin’s imperialist invasion of Ukraine, an independent state and a people with every right to self-determination. The existence of a massive Ukrainian flag outside his embassy in London will serve to remind him of that,” Led by Donkeys posted on social media. The tweet quickly went viral.

“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,” he said.

Britain likes to see itself as playing a leading role in support for Ukraine, and its military assistance is second only to contributions from the United States.

Britain, however, has done much less than many European countries when it comes to taking in Ukrainian refugees. The government, under then Prime Minister Boris Johnson, launched a DIY program that required Brits to identify individual refugees they wanted to sponsor. Some Brits have been willing hosts — one man interviewed by The Washington Post even flew to the Ukraine border with Cadbury bars. But there have been reports of an increase in evictions and homelessness.

Britain’s pick-a-refugee program had one Brit flying to Poland with Cadbury bars

At the political level, support for backing Ukraine in the conflict has remained strong, with lawmakers from all parties showing a kind of unity hasn’t been seen often in the topsy-turvy post-Brexit years.

Bronwen Maddox, director of Chatham House, a London think tank, 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 strong, even while many people believed the war 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.

The stunt outside the embassy on Thursday wasn’t without its 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.”

Cars 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.