The Prince of Wales has spoken about the “truly terrible aggression” of President Vladimir Putin’s regime as he showed his solidarity with Ukraine by visiting its UK community.
Charles and Camilla lit candles and left floral tributes at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in London as they acknowledged the plight of the eastern European nation as fears grow Russia is planning a greater onslaught in the coming days.
The heir to the throne said he and his wife had been moved by the “bravery, generosity and fortitude” of the Ukrainians in the face of the military action by Russian forces.
Cathedral staff reported Ukrainian men have been seeking blessings before traveling back to their homeland to join the fight against Mr Putin’s army.
Camilla was left close to tears when the leading members of the UK’s Ukrainian community sang a mournful version of the song Chervona Kalyna, Red Guelder Rose, to welcome the couple when they walked into a cathedral hall.
The men, women and children performed the song famously sung by Ukrainian insurgents during the Second World War which evokes images of the Ukrainian homeland.
The prince told those invited: “I must say my wife and I have been deeply moved by everything we’ve heard today during our visit and above all by the extraordinary bravery, generosity and fortitude of the Ukrainian community in the face of such truly terrible aggression.”
For the second day Charles had spoken out about the conflict in Ukraine, during a ceremony that granted city status to Southend-on-Sea on Tuesday he told guests the values of democracy were under attack in Ukraine in the “most unconscionable way”.
It is understood the heir to the throne had approached the Ukrainian community offering his help and he brought representatives from five humanitarian organizations he is connected with to offer practical support.
The couple were also joined by the Ukrainian ambassador Vadym Prystaiko, and his wife Inna Prystaiko, who earlier received a rare tribute from MPs, a standing ovation in the House of Commons when he watched Prime Minister’s Questions from the gallery.
Mrs Prystaiko was in tears as the duchess held back her own at the start of the event and when the royal couple left Camilla hugged the diplomat’s wife and said they would pray for her.
Charles’ royal event followed a visit by the Prime Minister to the cathedral on Sunday and emphasized the UK’s position of public support for Ukraine.
Mr Prystaiko said he was “touched” by the duchess hugging his wife and said he would convey the message this symbolized back to his homeland.
He was asked about Charles’ comments and disagreed with the suggestion they were political: “It’s not political any more. We’re past political, we’re in survival mode.
“We’re now, as the prince mentioned, trying to find a way how a nation of 40 million people can survive the aggressor.”
The diplomat added: “We hope and pray we will be able to stop this, the question is how without real support from Nato, from the UK, from the United States… he’s still bombarding our cities.”
Ruslana Bigur, an accountant who has lived in the UK for three years with her builder husband and two children, commented about meeting Charles: “He said the situation was unbelievable in the 21st century.”
She added that her parents in Ukraine had refused to move to safety: “They want to stay because it’s their land and it’s home to them.”
At the end of the visit Charles spoke a few words of Ukrainian saying the phrase well-known in the eastern European country “Glory to Ukraine” and got the response “Glory to the heroes” from the guests.
The couple both lit a candle in the cathedral and left a single sunflower bloom – the national flower of Ukraine.
Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski, Bishop for Ukrainian, Belarusian and Slovak Eastern Catholics in Great Britain, hosted the visit and said Charles had genuine feelings of shock about events in Ukraine.
He said: “From the moment we walked into the cathedral one of his first words was how shocked he was to know what was happening and again expressed his solidarity and compassion.
“I felt he was talking to me, not just to Bishop Kenneth, but to me as a person whose friends and colleagues are suffering in Ukraine and thereby also expressing that to the wider Ukrainian community in the United Kingdom.”
The senior cleric clarified the blessing given to men destined to fight: “We certainly don’t pray that they kill anybody, we want to bless them and assure them of our prayers and if they have to defend themselves, they have to defend themselves. ”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.