‘We will defend our homeland!’ Ukrainians in Britain return to fight after Putin invasion

Ukraine: Sirens sound in Kiev as Russia begins invasion

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Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered troops into Ukraine in the early hours of this morning in a “special military operation”. According to reports and footage from within Ukraine, Russian forces have entered the country through Belarus, Russian-backed separatist regions and Crimea, which it took in 2014.

Ukrainian forces are attempting to defend the Hostomel airport to the north-west of Kiev, following Russian airstrikes on key targets across the country.

Western leaders have reacted strongly to the attack, and have pledged renewed, tougher sanctions on Russia.

Boris Johnson said in an address to the nation earlier today that the “wanton and reckless aggression is an attack not just on Ukraine – it’s an attack on democracy and freedom”.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss vowed to respond to the “egregious violation of international law” with an “unprecedented” package of sanctions.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Ukrainian President, called on citizens to help defend the nation as he declared nationwide martial law.

He told Ukrainians that the Government would arm “anyone who wants to defend the country”.

Many Ukrainians living in cities such as the capital were seen in large queues attempting to escape westwards.

However, some living in the UK have said they would return to fight.

Valentina Butenko, a politics student at University College London, returned to Ukraine a few weeks ago to help as part of the Ukrainian Women’s Guard.

She said: “It’s terrifying […] I feel angry, I feel scared, but I also feel very impassioned to go out and help Ukraine right now and stand by my country.

“I am not keen to leave Kiev; I would like to contribute to the military effort, whether that’s medically or by sheltering people.”

Referencing the urban warfare training she received – which included handling a rifle – Ms Butenko, who has a British mother, said: “It’s hard to predict or even imagine a case in which those skills can be used.

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“But I think I came to a basic understanding, you know, I need to be prepared […] I don’t know how, ultimately, I will have to step in and protect Ukraine, but I need to be prepared for any situation.

“That’s very much the spirit of a lot of young people here right now.”

Meanwhile, Marta Mulyak, the head of Ukraine’s scouts London branch, told the Mail: “Some of my friends have said they will return to try and defend the country.

“They are not military people, the love for the country for Ukrainians is above all and they want to protect our country.

“The people that are trying to get over to Ukraine they are not sure how they will get there. I guess the only way is to drive from the closest airport.”

However, she added: “We believe in our regular army.”

Wolodymyr Pawluk, chair of the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain, told the Guardian that a “handful” of veterans in London were planning on going back.

However, there were “many more” across the country who would return to fight.

In a press conference this afternoon, Vadym Prystaiko, the Ukrainian ambassador to the UK was asked how many Ukrainians had returned in recent days.

He said that there was “no exact number” but called on the support of the 20 million Ukrainians living around the world.

Mr Prystaiko also claimed that Ukrainian supermarkets were full of bread but running out of ammunition as residents were “ready to fight to the end”.

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