Ukrainians in Britain have been ignored by Cameron. So now London-based oligarchs will feel the heat…

written for The Telegraph, 19 February 2014

Rinat Akhmetov, owner of One Hyde Park (Photo: AFP/Getty)

Rinat Akhmetov, owner of One Hyde Park (Photo credit: AFP/Getty)

Twenty-five people had to die in Kiev’s central square yesterday for the world to take notice of the brutality of the current Ukrainian regime. Ukrainians in Britain find the complacency bewildering: one told me last night “this is our Tiananmen Square – but it’s been going on for months”. For the last three months, protestors have been routinely arrested and tortured for opposing the expansion of Russian influence – as Andrew Gimson notes, we all have our problems with the EU, but for Ukrainians it is a beacon of liberty compared to Russia.

London and the EU are scrabbling to announce sanctions as I write. But it’s taken them this long – and British politicians certainly have no excuse for their forgetfulness. A deafening protest blocked the traffic in West London last night, but more genteel demonstrations have been running for the last three months, led by a group of Ukrainian exiles who tell me that “unlike America, the EU is still terrified of Russia”. Last month, I met Syrian refugees who blame the West’s fear of Russia for the failure to confront Assad in Iran, while just last night, the Russian-backed regime in Venezuela arrested opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez after protests which left four people dead. All over the globe, Russia continues to prop up dictators. Why is no one in the British Left protesting?

If you do pass through West London, I urge you to visit the impromptu shrine to St Vlodymyr on Holland Park Avenue. St Vlodymyr is revered as the first Christian king of the Ukraine – like most such figures, historical investigation suggests he wasn’t quite so saintly, but his statue still stands as a monument to Ukrainian dreams of an independent, Western-facing civilization. Every day since November 21, I’ve seen flowers and candles refreshed here. And hauntingly, each protest ends with a crowd making the sign of the cross, and reciting nationalist prayers. For a community that has lost faith in the international community, prayer seems to be the only hope they have left.

On January 29, Ukrainian protestors handed in a petition to 10 Downing Street, urging David Cameron to impose sanctions on Ukrainian oligarchs living in London. They tell me they have not received a response. So they’re moving their protests to target London-based Ukrainian oligarchs directly. Rinat Akhmetov, a close backer of President Victor Yanukovych, owns the most expensive flat in London, the penthouse in One Hyde Park. So from this evening, there will be a 24-hour picket outside his luxury pad. The British government may be shying away from confronting Russia’s influence abroad, but as long as there are Russian oligarchs in London, Downing Street is going to come under pressure to hold them accountable for what goes on behind the new Iron Curtain.