Why Mariupol matters to me a lot more than a 'Stop the War' march 


  Philosophy Football's Mark Perryman recalls Ukraine's summer of Euro 2012 

Early 2012, me and a bunch of 50 or so England fan friends were looking for where to base ourselves and our coach driven by our mate Dave Beverley all the way from Scunthorpe, for that year's Euros in Ukraine

The trick with a Euros or World Cup is not to stay in the host cities where costs sky-rocket but within 50-60 miles, hence Dave's coach to get us around. 

50 miles south of Donestk where two of England's group games would be, cheap hotel, beach with a bar, sunshine. Touristy things too like an historic church we visited. Perfect, and despite dire predictions otherwise, so it proved. Ahead of Euro 2012 it was the media who stereotyped all Ukrainians as neo-nazis, now its those who oppose the invasion. They're both wrong.

And so we happened upon Mariupol, to be honest none of us had ever heard of it but Ukrainian contacts highly recommended it, worth a punt we thought, so glad we did. 










2023, the first anniversary of Russia's invasion and Mariupol is now front page news, bombed back, including that church, into the Middle Ages. I'm a solid internationalist. I boycotted South African goods for years, I was on the big 2003 anti-Iraq war protest, through Philosophy Football we've raised funds for a material aid convoy, one of the lorries driven by Hugh Tisdale my co-founder of Philosophy Football, to break the siege of Gaza. But I'll be honest its Ukraine that has moved me like nothing else.

I grew up politically through the second cold war. US Cruise Missiles vs USSR SS-20s. Then Gorbachev offered the promise of something different, a dream that's ended with the nightmare of Putin and oligarch power.  This feels like not so much the Cold War revisited, but a hot war.  

And this is Europe, never mind the EU, this is my continent. Through following England I've been to not just Russia and Ukraine but Poland, Hungary, Estonia, Moldova, Belarus, Sweden, Finaland all those countries most embroiled and threatened by this deadly conflict. This feels like home. 

And for three weeks Mariupol was our home. When I see the pictures of this city reduced to rubble, it makes me think of my parents, father, RAF, and mother Royal Navy, returning from the war in '45 to Wallington in the south of London suburbs and roads of houses, schools, hospitals, workplaces bombed too, and hundreds of thousands made homeless the same experience across much of urban and suburban Britain. And now seven decades later Mariupol the same, Kharkiv where we stayed on route to Kyiv, Kyiv itself, if anything worse. Lviv too where after the, in those days inevitable, knockout on penalties in the quarters, the 50 of us in our coach passed through the border checkpoint to Poland that today tens of thousands of Ukrainian refuges have queued up to leave through, forced against their will by the Russian invasion to leave their country. 

And now on the first anniversary a so-called a 'Stop the War' march.  Peace Talks Now the organisers demand, revealing a bewildering absence of politics, or something worse, amongst the seasoned campaigners backing the demo.  The might of Putin's Russia invades Ukraine and the only demand pinned on Zelenskyy is to sue for peace, at what cost? And when he pleads for arms to defend his country, a war-monger? Sanctions against Russia, will only harm ordinary Russians, a caveat, quite rightly, never applied to sanctions against Israel. So Stop the War in the absence of any help whatsoever to the Ukrainian resistance precisely what will bring Putin to the peace talks? What exactly will stop him turning invasion into occupation? How sad that 25 years after the 2 million strong Stop the War demo against the Iraq War the same organisers would get it so wrong this time around, trounciing themselves and their organisation's reputation in the process.        

Yet it saddens me to write this, many of those backing the march I have over the years had  the utmost respect for. But not on Saturday I won't, because while me and my England fan mates may never be able to visit Mariupol again, we will never ever forget or forgive what Putin and his oligarchs have done to the city. 

Stop the War? Stop bloody Putin!


Mark Perryman was the convenor of LondonEngland Fans 2000-2012 and is the co-founder of Philosophy Football


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