Ukrainian behind huge rally in Bristol ‘impressed’ by support - as his parents flee home from Russian attacks

‘Bristol and the entire civilised world stands with Ukraine.’

A Ukrainian man who organised a protest against the invasion of his home country in Bristol said he originally invited 20 friends and was ‘amazed’ when hundreds of people turned out in solidarity.

Yaroslav Korniyets said he expected ‘maybe 50 people to show up at most’ but found himself leading a huge crowd of supporters waving Ukrainian flags and signs across College Green.

Yaroslav Korniyets at the rally on College Green on Saturday.

The 30-year-old said the event gave him hope while his parents are hiding in a cellar in the countryside after fleeing their home city of Berdychiv, just 114 miles to the west of Kyiv.

Yaroslav, a software engineer, told BristolWorld: “Ukrainians are obviously feeling devastated and distressed right now, but for those living outside of the country, the overriding emotion is one of utter helplessness.

“I was so impressed with the turn out as I had originally invited 20 friends and expected maybe 50 people to show up at most.

“It was a reminder that the entire civilised world stands with Ukraine,” said Yaroslav, pictured here leading the protest.

“It’s not just the presence, but the participation. Bristol people are engaging in real activism and have told me they’re urging the city’s MPs and political leaders to take action.

“These are the people who will be able to push the UK government for the weapons the Ukrainian people need to survive this.

“It’s a reminder to us that Bristol, and the entire civilised world, stands with Ukraine now.”

The fighting across Ukraine has now entered its seventh day, with attacks confirmed in the cities of Kyiv, Zhytomyr and Kharkiv - it is now believed that Russian troops are currently surrounding Kherson and Mariupol in the south of the country.

The protest attracted hundreds of Bristolians and Ukrainians living in the city. Image by Colin Rayner.

Yaroslav is trying to hold his own as horrific reports from his loved ones flood in.

He says former colleagues in Zhytomyr, where he used to work, have told him the city came under attack from Russian missiles last night, which hit ‘many residential buildings as well as a maternity ward’.

“People are dealing with the war in their own way,” said Yaroslav. “Some are taking tranquilisers just to keep calm, others are making molotovs and I know quite a few people who have joined the territorial advance.

An image sent to Yaroslav by a friend in Zhytomyr, which was attacked by Russian missiles last night.

“If I tried to get home, my family would be angry. They want me to live.

“The will of the Ukrainian people and their incredible military efforts are keeping me sane at the moment. Russia has gone unpunished for its crimes for too long.

Yaroslav is concerned for his parents who have fled their home city of Berdychiv, 114 miles east of Kyiv, to the countryside where they are hiding in a cellar. Meanwhile, he says former colleagues in the city of Zhytomyr, around 89 miles east of Kyiv, have told him the city came under attack from Russian missiles last night.

“If we forgive what’s happened in Ukraine, they will move on to NATO countries.

“This evil regime must end. In the meantime, the UK government need to relax their laws allowing Ukrainian refugees to come here, as grateful as we are for the help with weapons.

Yaroslav stands surrounded by Bristol residents showing solidarity with Ukraine. Image by Jon Craig Photography.

“People are being turned away at the border because they don’t have the right sponsorship, and it’s almost like the government is saying ‘sorry guys, we appreciate your suffering, but you’re not welcome here’.”

Government visa rules were partially relaxed at the weekend, allowing close relatives of Ukrainian people settled in the UK to come here, but Labour, including Bristol MPs, say it’s not enough.

Ukrainians living in Bristol have also told BristolWorld that they are unable to bring siblings over to the UK under the new regulations, as they have been told they are not classed as immediate family members.

Regulations on allowing Ukrainian refugees into the UK were relaxed over the weeked, but Bristol MPs say it’s not enough. Picture by Jon Craig Photography.

Bristol mayor Marvin Rees posted on Twitter: “Half a million people have now left Ukraine, according to the United Nations.

“#Bristol stands alongside Ukrainians and Russians protesting against Putin’s invasion – and stands ready to offer sanctuary to those fleeing.”

Yaroslav added: “The last number I heard was something like 670,000 Ukrainian refugees in the EU.

“It’s time for the world to step up. All that Russia is focussed on right now is spreading chaos, fear and terror.”