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Emotive, dignified and peaceful: the Whitehall 'Free Ukraine' protest

Chris Hobbs praises the dignified and law abiding protests against Russia's invasion of Ukraine - a sharp contrast to other recent demonstrations in the capital.

Emotive, dignified and peaceful: the Whitehall 'Free Ukraine' protest

Date - 1st March 2022
By - Chris Hobbs
1 Comment 1 Comment}

Serving and retired officers will, probably all have their own memories of public order events and, almost inevitably, these will be the result of violence being directed against police and/or other forms of lawlessness such as looting.

Occasionally, memories of a public order event will linger indefinitely for other reasons and Saturday’s ‘Free Ukraine’ protest is a case in point.

Events in Ukraine inevitably made this Whitehall based protest an emotive one given that many of those attending would have family and friends very much on the front line in their own country. Ukrainian nationals present were supported by protesters from other European countries such as Poland, Romania and Georgia as well as the UK.

Police initially attempted to keep Whitehall open to traffic but as this situation became more precarious for both protesters and police, a decision was taken to close the world- famous street to all but emergency vehicles.

At the same time numbers of protesters, most decked in yellow and blue (and the ‘sympathetic’ yellow and blue vehicle livery of police vehicles was, with some amusement, noted), were gathering in Whitehall, a different form of protest was gathering at Speaker’s Corner. The anti-vaxxers were on the march.

Anti-Vaxxers on the streets again.

Anti-vaxxers, since the advent of the pandemic, have been involved in a number of violent clashes with police. Their frequent, nose to nose, in your face, abuse of officers would simply not be tolerated in other countries but it was clear on this occasion, that enthusiasm for their cause is waning. Their numbers were down to around three-thousand; a marked contrast to the tens of thousands that swarmed across Hyde Park at the height of the pandemic.

Interestingly, any inspection of anti-vax social media sites, notably telegram, will show increasing levels of support for Putin on the basis that he is defying the ‘great reset’/new world order/globalisation orchestrated by western leaders and influencers.

Return to Whitehall

As the ant-vax march reached Hyde Park Corner, I decided to return to Whitehall to find numbers had increased significantly and, as mentioned above, most of Whitehall was closed to traffic. The decision to protest close to Downing Street as opposed to the Russian Embassy, was clearly to put additional pressure on the Prime Minister with the objective of increasing practical support. A frequent call, as illustrated by both chants and posters, was for NATO to establish a no-fly zone over Ukraine. Another frequently seen demand was for Russia to be denied access to the money exchange system known as Swift.

Despite the numbers and the sea of yellow and blue, there appeared to be no central organisation. Instead of one stage with powerful loudspeakers, there were several ongoing meetings being ‘chaired’ by separate individuals. Only one had powered speakers and these were relatively small. Other ‘meetings’ were conducted using hand-held megaphones.

The ‘upside’ to this situation was that it was possible to move from meeting to meeting and absorb a variety of views.

What was apparent and in total contrast to what has been seen at other protests over the past two years, was the demeanour and dignity of the protesters. All ages could be seen and whilst there was anger and emotion, it was controlled; there was no congregation at the gates of Downing Street hurling abuse at both its occupants and police. The relatively few police officers that were deployed to Whitehall were treated with respect and civility.

Yet the despair of those participating was clear. Numerous posters and placards could be seen; some were of artistic merit, others handwritten but passionate and even the most impartial observer could not fail to be moved….well almost.

Towards the end of the protest about 20 anti-vaxxers appeared and walked, with their placards through the protest. The familiar faces showed no empathy or sympathy which perhaps, given the aforementioned contents of their social media sites, was less than surprising. They were barely given a second glance by those in yellow and blue and apparently ended up at the Canadian High Commission in support of the Ottawa truckers.

The ‘Free Ukraine’ demonstration simply required a ‘light touch’ policing operation by the Met and its officers who showed their customary sensitivity to a protest which was emotive yet totally peaceful.

It was, in fact, almost a surreal experience to be present at a London protest populated entirely by dignified (that word again), friendly individuals who, frankly, were a credit to their cause and their country.

Chris Hobbs is a former Special Branch officers who has been following the various pandemic demonstrations for Police Oracle as an observer 

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Patrick - Thu, 03 March 2022

I would like to see what Chris Hobbs'definition of an anti-vaxxer is. If you could RSVP please Chris.