UK

Joanna Lumley hails ‘great feeling of unity’ at event in support of Ukraine

London’s Palace Theatre hosted an evening featuring performances by Ukrainian poets, a ballerina and musicians in a show of support for the country.

Joanna Lumley reads a poem during the United With Ukraine show, an event for the Ukrainian refugee community in London, to mark two years since the Russian invasion, at the Palace Theatre in London
Joanna Lumley reads a poem during the United With Ukraine show, an event for the Ukrainian refugee community in London, to mark two years since the Russian invasion, at the Palace Theatre in London Joanna Lumley reads a poem during the United With Ukraine show, an event for the Ukrainian refugee community in London, to mark two years since the Russian invasion, at the Palace Theatre in London (Aaron Chown/PA)

People in the UK sometimes “don’t know how to focus” their help for Ukraine, Dame Joanna Lumley has suggested as she read a poem at a theatre event to mark the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion of the country.

The 77-year-old joined more than 1,000 others at London’s Palace Theatre for an evening which featured performances by Ukrainian poets, a ballerina and musicians in a show of support for the war-torn country as it continues to fight Russian President Vladimir Putin’s army.

The actress read the English translation of a poem by Ukrainian poet and medic Yuliia Paievska, who was imprisoned by Russian soldiers between March and June 2022.

The Absolutely Fabulous star told the PA news agency afterwards: “The house was packed, it was extraordinary, there was a great feeling of unity.

Dame Joanna Lumley and Ukrainian medic Yuliia Paievska read a poem during the United With Ukraine show, an event for the Ukrainian refugee community in London, to mark two years since the Russian invasion, at the Palace Theatre in London
Dame Joanna Lumley and Ukrainian medic Yuliia Paievska read a poem during the United With Ukraine show, an event for the Ukrainian refugee community in London, to mark two years since the Russian invasion, at the Palace Theatre in London Dame Joanna Lumley and Ukrainian medic Yuliia Paievska read a poem during the United With Ukraine show, an event for the Ukrainian refugee community in London, to mark two years since the Russian invasion, at the Palace Theatre in London (Aaron Chown/PA)

“I think the important thing about the world, which is very fragmented, is that if you see how strong people are together, it weakens the opposition.”

When asked if Britons were doing enough to support Ukraine, she said: “If somebody said ‘collect milk bottles’ or something like that, or ‘collect tin cans’, we would all do it all the time, but sometimes it’s too nebulous and people don’t know how to focus their aid.

“I know that this country stands absolutely behind Ukraine and we long for what will happen.”

Ms Paievska told PA: “Before we went on stage, she (Dame Joanna) told me that she is with Ukraine with her whole heart.

“It’s a big honour for me to do this with Joanna and the reason for that is that Joanna is a symbol of Britain and a symbol of classic Britain, and everything that Britain stands for.

“It’s been an absolutely fantastic event and it’s fantastic because it’s very honest and beautiful, and it’s proven the unity of three nations.

“I am often asked if our friends in the West have gotten tired of what is happening in Ukraine and supporting us, and this is proof to the fact that they have not.”

Actor Brian Cox appeared earlier in the show, where he read Poem About a Crow by Victoria Amelina – a poet, novelist, essayist and human rights activist who died aged 37 from injuries sustained in a Russian missile strike on Kramatorsk – and then told Mr Putin to “f*** off” after the reading.

Brian Cox reads a poem during the United With Ukraine show
Brian Cox reads a poem during the United With Ukraine show, an event for the Ukrainian refugee community in London, to mark two years since the Russian invasion, at the Palace Theatre in London Brian Cox reads a poem during the United With Ukraine show (Aaron Chown/PA)

US ambassador to the UK Jane Hartley said in her opening remarks that Mr Putin’s Russia “cannot go unpunished” in the aftermath of opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s death in a prison north of the Arctic Circle.

Speaking to PA before the performances, Ms Hartley insisted the narrative about the West’s continued support for Ukraine is “much too negative” and that the US can provide “totally reliable” support.

She added: “I think the US is totally relied on in terms of Ukrainian support. We’ve given 75 billion dollars in support of them, and President Biden has made it very clear that he is supporting Ukraine to the end. He’s made it very clear that he thinks Ukraine can win.

“Sometimes I think the narrative gets much too negative. We have seen what they have done, we’ve seen what they did in the Black Sea just last week, we’ve seen the number of casualties on the Russian side. The Ukrainians are brave, they’re courageous and they’re tough.

“We’re going to support them, the world is supporting them, our allies are supporting them and this fight will go on, I’m an optimist.

“You guys (the UK) have been a fantastic ally, and we have worked together on everything. It really is the special relationship.”

The evening also featured a speech by Attorney General Victoria Prentis, whose daughter lived in Kyiv before the war, and who took in one of her friends as a refugee.

Ukrainian rock star Svyatoslav Vakarchuk, Songs for Ukraine and the Royal Opera House quartet perform the Ukrainian national anthem during the United With Ukraine show
Ukrainian rockstar Svyatoslav Vakarchuk, Songs for Ukraine, and the Royal Opera House quartet perform the Ukrainian National Anthem during the United With Ukraine show, an event for the Ukrainian refugee community in London, to mark two years since the Ru Ukrainian rock star Svyatoslav Vakarchuk, Songs for Ukraine and the Royal Opera House quartet perform the Ukrainian national anthem during the United With Ukraine show (Aaron Chown/PA)

She said: “That’s why we are determined to ensure that we and our allies will support Ukraine for as long as it takes.”

Ukrainian rock star Svyatoslav Vakarchuk, who has recently returned from performing for soldiers on the front line, told PA following his performance that Britons are friends of his country “not only in their words but also in actions”.

He added: “There are a lot of countries, there are a lot of people around the world who express their support but very few of them prove it not only with words but also with deeds.

“The UK and British people are among those who are friends not only in their words but also in actions.

“The war in Ukraine is still taking place and we don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, so it’s important to continue spreading the word about Ukraine, raise awareness, remind people that it’s not over.

“The fact that Ukraine probably is not the main headline news as it was two years ago doesn’t mean that everything is over. I can cite here the famous saying of the legendary Winston Churchill, and I think that’s the situation that we can describe in Ukraine.

“It’s not the end, it’s not the end of the beginning but it’s probably the beginning of the end.”