Burnley MP column | Setting foot in Ukraine brought me face to face with the horror the country and its people are facing

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Last week, 364 days after Russia launched its full-scale assault and invasion of Ukraine, I stepped into Kyiv.

Travelling as part of a small cross-party delegation of MPs, I didn’t know what to expect.

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The purpose was to demonstrate our support on the one-year anniversary, showing that the UK continues to stand firmly side-by-side with Ukraine; and to meet Ukrainian politicians and organisations to ensure that the measures we are taking here, and the support being provided, is meeting the need.

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Burnley MP Antony HigginbothamBurnley MP Antony Higginbotham
Burnley MP Antony Higginbotham

In the Verkhovna Rada – Ukraine’s Parliament – I saw for myself just how much our support is valued. Representatives from every area – including areas under occupation – stood up and applauded us in the UK.

And in meeting after meeting, with politicians and independent organisations, I heard of the impact UK support is having. Whether it is the military equipment we send, which is literally protecting lives; or the economic and humanitarian support which is allowing them to keep the lights on and start to rebuild in the areas they have taken back.

But I also heard of the atrocities being committed. The way Russia is cracking down on dissent in areas under occupation, and the forced abduction of children – where families are torn apart and children moved to Russia.

On Thursday, exactly 365 days after the full invasion began, I travelled to a city called Irpin. Just 15 miles from central Kyiv, it is as close as the Russians got to the capital city. There I witnessed the full horror of what the Russian forces did, with homes and blocks of flats destroyed, and cars full of bullet holes. They were the homes of innocent families; and cars being driven out of the city as people fled.

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Later that day, back in Kyiv, I paid tribute to Ukraine’s fallen, at the Wall of Remembrance.

As you walk the streets of Kyiv, even with the security forces around, and the interruption caused by air raid sirens periodically, it feels European. And despite everything, its people remain optimistic about the future; firm in their resolve to build the free, democratic, open, Western society that we take for granted.

Ukraine’s fight is not just one that they can win, but one that they must. For if they don’t, we accept that might is right, and surrender our values to those who seek to destroy them.

You can see a short video documenting Antony’s time in Ukraine on his website and Facebook page.