'Norwich stands with Ukraine': Protest and vigil for war-torn nation
- Credit: Ella Wilkinson
Norwich is united with Ukraine in the face of a brutal Russian onslaught of the stricken nation.
More than 200 people waved Ukrainian flags and chanted songs as a fervently anti-Putin protest took place in the city centre on Sunday afternoon.
Many of the protesters then stood in silence with candles as a moving Vigil For Peace was held in Norwich Cathedral later that evening.
'We stand with Ukraine', 'Putin go home' and 'stop war in Ukraine' were among the chants ringing out as Ukrainian nationals living in Norwich stood shoulder to shoulder with equally disgusted Brits on the steps of City Hall.
And a large group of well-wishers watched on as placards were held up and faces were painted in the colours of Ukraine.
Many of those demonstrating have relatives sheltering from bombs back home following the Russian invasion last Thursday morning.
Halyna Birch, 43, has lived in Norwich for 20 years with her husband Richard, 45.
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She has relatives fleeing from Russian aggression in all parts of the country with some of them forced to shelter in basements from bombs with young, terrified children.
Mrs Birch said: "I am messaging them every 30 minutes to see if they are alive. I know people in Russia think it's fake but it's reality.
"There are children sleeping on the floor in sub-zero temperatures. People do not know what to do.
"This is the centre of Europe. It's not a country in the middle of nowhere. My 14-year-old daughter is safe with us here but she is feeling emotional and distressed."
Mykhaylo Kostyuk, 43, and his wife Alina, 44, have family in the west of Ukraine as well as to the north near the Belarus border.
They travelled from Dereham to attend the protest having lived in Norfolk for almost 15 years.
Mr Kostyuk said: "I know family and friends who are hearing sirens a few times a day. I think many people expected Putin to invade. He was behind by a week."
The Bishop of Norwich was in attendance speaking to Ukrainians to hear their concerns.
Ukrainian Natalia Scott, 43, who lives in Sprowston organised the protest and said the numbers exceeded her expectations.
She said: "It's difficult to estimate how many would turn up. The initial response was about 30 people. It's heartening to see the support."
Her brother is sheltering in Kyiv while her 22-year-old daughter has driven towards the Polish border after her fiancée was mobilised to defend Ukraine.
Mrs Scott said: "My brother said he is Ok. But he said he saw a rocket from his window for the first time today."
Volyodymyr Romanchok, 50, also attended the protest with his 14-year-old Olesya and 19-year-old Ostap.
They were carrying a red and black combat flag for Ukraine with the red symbolising the spirit of the motherland and the black representing the earth of their homeland.
Mr Romanchok, who lives in Norwich, said: "Some Russians do not like this flag. It symbolises Bandera, the national hero of Ukraine."
Lithuanians, Estonians and Polish people attended the protest as well.
Among these was Polish citizen Margaret Wasielewska, 46, who lives in Swaffham, and said: "Poland has supplied a lot of ammunition for Ukraine.
"I would be lying if I said I was not worried about Putin invading Poland as well."
Those attending the later Vigil For Peace at Norwich Cathedral were offered space to pray in silence while lighting a candle as a symbol of hope in darkness.
A three minute silence was observed, while readings were also given by The Reverend Canon Aidan Platten, The Reverend Canon Andrew Bryant and The Very Reverend Jane Hedges.
Revd Canon Platten said: "The simplicity of lighting a candle brightens the heart. Darkness can never quench the light.
"We had no idea how many would come but there has been a really good feeling of solidarity in the cathedral."
A peace globe was brought into the centre of the cathedral as part of the special service.