Councillors in Edinburgh will consider granting the Freedom of the City to the Ukrainian President and the Mayor of Edinburgh’s twin city, Kyiv. It is the most prestigious honour the city can bestow upon anyone.
In recognition of their heroism in leading their country and citizens in the fight against the Russian invasion, Council Leaders are seeking support to confer the Freedom of the City jointly to President Volodymyr Zelensky and Mayor Vitali Klitschko, in a Motion (Item 8.1) published online yesterday.
The Freedom of the City is a tradition that dates back over 560 years to 1459 in Edinburgh.
The Queen and Sir Chris Hoy are the only living individuals with the Scottish Capital’s freemanship. It can only be "bestowed upon those who are held in the highest esteem".
The symbolic gesture will be considered at a meeting of the Council on Thursday (17 March), alongside a further Motion (Item 8.2), which condemns Russia’s “horrific and illegal attacks on the Independence of Ukraine, their people, and their homes”.
Boost to humanatarian aid
The motion also outlines further practical steps Edinburgh may take to support humanitarian efforts and those displaced by the crisis.
If the Motion is agreed, up to £100,000 of Council funding would be targeted towards coordinating local efforts with the Edinburgh Partnership. This would help Edinburgh maximise supplies to Ukraine, support local infrastructure for facilitating donations as well as the transport of supplies to Poland and elsewhere.
Other steps would see letters sent to the Home Office, UK Foreign Office and MOD to seek clarity and support for victims of the war arriving in Edinburgh - particularly children - and ask for help with temporary accommodation.
In an additional display of solidarity with Ukraine, a ban on Russian cultural events and performances in Council-owned venues could be set (further to the cancellation of a Russian concert at the Usher Hall) and the Council would end its relationship with the Russian Consulate, which has been the scene of angry protests since the invasion started.
“We all stand shoulder to shoulder with the Ukrainian people in fighting this oppressive Russian regime and we will do everything we possibly can to support them,” said Council Leader Adam McVey.
“This is not just in recognition of their own leadership and bravery, but the bravery of all Ukrainians battling for their nation.”
Depute Leader Cammy Day added: “Edinburgh has a strong Scottish-Ukrainian population and many of us have heard stories from local friends and family members about the atrocities people in Kyiv and across Ukraine are facing. We pride ourselves on the warm welcome we offer to those in desperate need of our help and I hope we can drive forward support for refugees.”
Standing with Ukraine
The conferring of the freedom of the city on the Ukrainian President and Mayor of Kyiv, is the latest in a series of actions taken in support of Ukraine.
At the outset of the Russian attack, the Lord Provost wrote to the Mayor of Kyiv outlining Edinburgh’s deepest sorrow for events.
Edinburgh severed its twinning with St Petersburg and is reviewing all investments and contracts for Russian ties.
In solidarity with the people of Ukraine, Edinburgh City Council has been flying the Ukrainian flag above city chambers and the landmark Granton gasholder has been lit up in blue and yellow.
The Scottish Government building at St Andrew's House has also been flying the Ukrainian flag.
Many Russians have been sickened by the war, with one woman publicly burning her Russian passport at the foot of the Mound, in protest.
Another sign of how quickly Russia relations cooled: on 28th February the Edinburgh International Festival announced that it had asked for, and accepted the resignation of, Russian conductor Valery Gergiev as Honorary President of the Festival. Gergiev was blacklisted from performing in Ukraine after expressing support for Putin’s invasion of the Crimea in 2014.
While links with Russia have frozen, Edinburgh residents have opened their hearts to the plight of Ukrainians.
The Edinburgh Ukrainian Club at Royal Terrace said “in the region of 4,000-5,000 people have visited, donated, volunteered, driven vans, moved boxes and everything in between” in response to its appeal for humanitarian aid for the victims of the invasion of Ukraine. The first truckloads of aid have reportedly started arriving at the Ukraine border.
“The outpouring of grief and support from Edinburgh people has been incredible and we won’t stop flying the Ukrainian flag until the war is brought to an end,” said Day.
The Council recommends the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) Ukraine Appeal for those who wish to donate to the humanitarian effort in Ukraine. The Appeal is co-ordinated by the Red Cross, Christian Aid, Oxfam and Save The Children.
Now in the third week of the war, the atrocities in the Ukraine seem to be getting worse. Thousands are thought to have died so far, with a children’s and maternity hospital in Mariupol becoming a horrifying recent target of Russian’s bombing campaign.
The conferring of the Freedom of the City to President Zelensky and Mayor Klitschko may be symbolic, but it adds to the chorus of voices declaring that Putin’s forces are on the wrong side of history.
Pictured: President Volodymyr Zelensky (left) and Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko from videos addressing the people of Ukraine and Kyiv