Russia's war on Ukraine: Brave Ukrainians like those in Bakhmut, the 'worst place in the world', are fighting in defence of democratic world – Alex Cole-Hamilton

If you had to pick somewhere that could be described as “the worst place in the world” right now you’d be hard-pressed to find somewhere more awful than the town of Bakhmut on the eastern front of the war in Ukraine.
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It is currently the epicentre of the conflict that has gripped the attention of the entire world since it started a year ago last week. As I joined other political leaders at Scotland’s national war memorial to commemorate that grim anniversary on Friday, my thoughts were with one particular soldier fighting in defence of that town.

For much of the past year, Sasha has been deployed in a forward position in Bakhmut. He has been in many battles and is now so experienced that he trains new recruits in combat operations and other duties of the front line. He is in his early 20s and is known to me only because he is a relative and close childhood friend of the Ukrainian design graduate who moved into our home exactly six months ago today under the Homes for Ukraine scheme.

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She often reads his messages to us, about the things he’s seen and has to cope with. On weekends, she joins other Ukrainians in church halls around Edinburgh to make combat netting out of old green, brown and white clothing for his unit and others like them and at Christmas we sent Sasha whisky and my kids wrote him letters.

Our Ukrainian house guest has suffered her own share of hardship at the hands of Russian aggression too. Her life as a refugee actually began nine years ago when the Russians invaded her town of Donetsk and destroyed her home. She’d been living in various parts of Ukraine since and decided to leave with the other female members of her family when the missiles started to fall on February 24 last year.

Her stories, and those of the other Ukrainians I’ve come to know, are a stark reminder of what’s really at stake in this war. This time last year, President Zelensky could have taken that offer of an American ride out of the Ukrainian capital and if he had, that city could well have fallen within days. Had that happened, you can be sure Putin wouldn’t have stopped at Kyiv or Ukraine.

I have never cared more passionately about or been more thankful for a group of people I may never meet. They are defending not just their freedom and the territorial integrity of their homeland – they represent a bulkhead for the free democracies of the entire world. It’s why I’ve spoken out so vociferously against Putin in street demonstrations and in parliament. I’ve pressed the Scottish Government to root out Russian interests in Scottish public life and it has earned me an official sanction from the Kremlin for so doing. That’s something I regard as a badge of honour.

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Sasha and the countless, brave fighting men and women of Ukraine are heroes in our time. As we mark the first year of their struggle, we should remember the sacrifice they are making on our behalf in the worst place on Earth and insist that our UK Government supplies them with everything they need to win.

Alex Cole-Hamilton is Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh Western

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