Helen Mirren tears up reciting war poem by Ukrainian writer at vigil

Helen Mirren

Oscar-winning actress recites war poem by celebrated Ukrainian author

An emotional Dame Helen Mirren called for “peace” and “democracy” for Ukraine as she recited a poem by one of the country’s most celebrated writers at an event to mark the one-year anniversary of Russia’s bloody war.

Dame Helen, an Oscar-winning actress, spoke at a vigil held in London’s Trafalgar Square on Thursday night and read Take Only What Is Most Important by Serhiy Zhadan, who has been described as one of the most important voices in contemporary Ukrainian literature.

Mr Zhadan’s poem, published in 2015 following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, explores themes of war, occupation and loss.

Helen Mirren

“Tired guards on borderlands covered with snow,” Dame Helen says as she reads out the poem in English. “A postman with empty bags shot down, a priest with a hapless smile hung by his ribs, the quiet of a cemetery, the noise of a command post, and unedited lists of the dead.”

<p>Dame Helen tears up as she calls for peace, freedom and democracy for Ukraine</p>
Dame Helen tears up as she calls for peace, freedom and democracy for Ukraine(BBC)

“So long that there won’t be time to check them for your own name,” she goes on.

Appearing to well up after reciting the “important” and “powerful” poem, Dame Helen says, “But I think you will be back,” adding: “Peace for Ukraine. Democracy for Ukraine. And freedom for Ukraine!”

Hundreds of people, many of them wrapped in Ukraine’s blue and yellow flag national flag,  braved the cold to attend last night’s vigil, which was coordinated by the US, UK and Ukrainian embassies.

A large screen was lit up with the phrase ‘slava Ukraini’ – ‘glory to Ukraine’ – a national salute that has become known as the battle cry of the fight-back against Moscow.

Videos showed the crowds joining in as singer-songwriter Jamala Bird performed Ukrainian songs on-screen, while Ukrainian pop-rock band Antytila also performed via video link, accompanied by a live dance performance in the square.

Ben Wallace, the UK’s defence secretary, was among those who attended and have a speech and reiterated the country’s unwavering support for Ukraine as Russian President Vladimir Putin launches a fresh offensive.

 Ukraine flag
A woman wrapped in a Ukraine flag at the vigil(REUTERS)

“This time last year we weren’t supposed to be here,” he said to applause from the crowd. “President Putin had a plan that in three weeks he would have dominated Ukraine, sent people to filtration camps and eventually have turned that country, your wonderful country, into merely a pawn for his ambitions.

“All of you here from Ukraine, the bravery of your country’s men and women who have stood against this aggression, this illegal war, this challenge to freedom, democracy and human rights should be incredibly proud of what you are standing for.”

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The UK parliament held a minute silence at 11am on Friday morning to remember the sacrifices of all those who have given their lives to defend their country and freedom.

Tributes to Ukraine’s resilience flowed from across the world, including in France, where the Eiffel Tower in Paris was among the monuments illuminated in Ukraine’s colours.

Ukrainians planned memorials, candle vigils and other remembrances for their tens of thousands of dead – a toll growing all the time as fighting rages in eastern Ukraine in particular.

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