If Ukraine lasts for another thousand years, people will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’ The Ukrainians’ magnificent defiance will shape their country’s image in the world for generations to come, as the lone stand led by Winston Churchill did for Britain. But what almost certainly awaits Ukrainians in the next few days is far worse than what the British went through in 1940. They are about to face a Russian campaign of long-distance bombardment and siege to try to break their will to resist, through fear, hunger, thirst, cold, sickness and all the other consequences of indiscriminate destruction.
Are you ready to take cold showers to do your bit for the war effort? Protestors in Berlin have been holding up placards suggesting they’d sooner do so than use Russia’s gas. Boris Johnson has called on the British public to make similar sacrifices, solemnly telling us that we need to drop cheap Russian energy and ‘accept that such a move will be painful’. The government will spend billions to help ease that pain, he says, but ‘none of us can afford to carry on like this for long’.
Ever since Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine, it’s been widely assumed that Europe’s right-wing populists are finished. Figures such as Marine Le Pen, Matteo Salvini and Viktor Orban have all been cast as Putin’s useful idiots – defending his nefarious deeds because they saw him as a vital ideological ally. Now that Putin’s craven cruelty can no longer be excused, it’s argued, time is up: both for their sordid dance with Putin and for them.
Among the many Russians who have protested against the war in Ukraine was 26-year-old Muscovite Aleksandra Kaluzhskikh, who was arrested earlier this month. She managed to record her interrogation while she was being beaten and sexually humiliated by police shouting expletives. ‘Look at the schmuck,’ one of her interrogators said, as Kaluzhskikh sighed and sobbed. ‘A marginal. What, you think they’ll do something to us for this [beating her]? Putin told us: kill them… That’s it! Putin is on our side.
When the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, addressed the House of Commons recently, he was afforded two standing ovations from MPs, both lasting about 40 seconds, before and after he spoke. He was probably used to it, having received a similar reception when addressing the European Parliament a week before. On both occasions, then, he was engulfed by warm, moist waves of adulation and respect. On both occasions he also asked for important, difficult stuff from the people he was addressing and didn’t get any of it – just lots of applause and legislators delicately dabbing their eyes before quickly averting them.
When Mark Hillery – Durham University’s largest donor – cut his funding for the institution last month over ongoing Covid-19 restrictions, the students of Collingwood College had the most to worry about. Hillery had previously endowed his alma mater with a £5.6 million arts centre, a shiny new gym and a revamp of its junior common room. He was also known for returning once a year to attend a formal dinner and pick up a bar tab that regularly exceeded £10,000.
The late Duke of Edinburgh would have had so much to say on the abomination being wreaked upon Ukraine. Prince Philip was our last living link with the Russian imperial court. He enjoyed childhood encounters with a killer of Rasputin. He also played his part in trying to bring post-communist Russia round to western ways during that brief, chaotic millennial window of opportunity.
So did the Queen, who still serves tea from the samovar Boris Yeltsin gave her on her state visit to Russia, though she would rather forget the four days in 2003 when the Blair government imposed Vladimir and Lyudmila Putin on her as house guests.
Slugs and snails are the bane of every gardener who tries to grow strawberries, leafy and tuberous vegetables, flowering bulbs and soft-shooted perennials. But Britain’s gastropods are ‘misunderstood’, according to Dr Andrew Salisbury, principal entomologist at the Royal Horticultural Society, which announced this month that it will no longer class slugs and snails as ‘pests’. That is because – along with earthworms, springtails and woodlice – they clear up dead plant and animal matter in the garden and thus balance their perfidy with benevolence.