Russia's aggressive actions against Ukraine have fundamentally challenged our vision of a Europe whole, free, and at peace.
These were the words of world leaders when Wales hosted the 2014 NATO Summit almost a decade ago.
That warning, part of the Wales Declaration, took on renewed significance when, on 24 February 2022, Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine by land, sea and air.
This article marks the first anniversary of the war and summarises steps taken to show solidarity with Ukraine in the last 12 months. It follows on from our articles on the Senedd’s initial response, the war’s early impacts in Wales and regular updates on how the needs of Ukrainian refugees are being met.
“The strategic order of Europe has altered”
This was the First Minister’s message from Brussels in March 2022. Europe has changed remarkably since and looks very different to when leaders discussed Russia on Welsh soil in 2014.
Finland and Sweden are in the final stages of joining NATO, Ukraine took a big leap towards EU membership and Germany agreed to send tanks to Ukraine.
The UK has played a key part in Europe’s response to the war.
How the UK and EU coordinate on defence was not taken forward as part of Brexit, but the Western response has expediated UK-EU cooperation in this area. The UK attended the EU’s European Political Community, its Berlin process. and joined its defence capability project, PESCO.
Sep 4, 2014: Former world leaders during 2014’s NATO Summit, held at the Celtic Manor Resort in Newport. From L-R: French President Francois Hollande, President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko, US President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.
“The governments of the UK have left no one in any doubt whose side we are on”
This is the view of the UK Government when explaining how the governments of the UK have co-ordinated their response to “the unprovoked attack on Ukraine”.
According to reports produced by the UK Government, together they have considered the war’s impacts on global supply chains, commodity prices, rising costs, and food security, and how to mitigate them. They have coordinated the delivery of medical supplies and made plans to welcome people fleeing Ukraine.
“Solidarity throughout Europe is something we must reaffirm now more than ever”
This was the response of the First Minister in March 2022. Wales raised £5.3 million in the first 24 hours after the invasion, which included £4 million from the Welsh Government.
Since then, Senedd Members have, among other things:
- condemned the invasion;
- visited Ukraine to deliver a message of support from the Llywydd;
- driven to Ukraine to deliver a vehicle and vital medical supplies;
- launched a cross-party fundraiser;
- marked the 90th anniversary of the Holodomor famine; and
- called on all states to join the UN’s Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weaponsin response to an increased risk of nuclear war.
The Senedd has passed laws introduced by the Welsh Government to help Ukrainian arrivals, including for free healthcare, council tax exemptions and pet arrivals.
On 15 February, Members also agreed the following motion:
“A warm welcome to all those who come to Wales”
Since the start of the invasion over eight million Ukrainian refugees have been displaced across Europe. In response to this humanitarian crisis, the UK Government opened several immigration routes for those seeking sanctuary. This included a ‘Homes for Ukraine’ scheme which relies on individuals sponsoring refugees and providing accommodation for a minimum of six months.
In March 2022, the Welsh Government announced it would become a ‘super sponsor’. Providing initial support for Ukrainian refugees through a network of ‘welcome centres’, the First Minister said there would be “a warm welcome to all those who come to Wales”.
However, new ‘super sponsor’ applications have been paused since June 2022. Numbers of refugees coming to Wales have continued to rise and by 7 February, 6,437 had arrived via the ‘Homes for Ukraine’ scheme, according to the UK Government’s weekly updates on arrivals.
Number of visa applications and visas issued through the Homes for Ukraine scheme on 7 February 2023
The UK Government’s weekly updates show that the number of arrivals has slowed in recent months. However, 2000 visas have been issued to refugees who have not arrived in Wales. While the data doesn’t reveal reasons why they have not sought to come to Wales after making an application, it does mean that numbers of arrivals could rise in the future.
Number of visas issued and arrivals in Wales between 6 April 2022 and 7 February 2023
No data was recorded on 27 December 2022 due to Christmas
As the war continues, meeting the longer-term accommodation needs of refugees has become a key concern. Refugees are currently being supported in every Welsh local authority, including in rural areas, as shown on the map below.
While exploring this issue the Senedd Housing and Local Government Committee found that in addition to supporting Ukrainian refugees, local authorities are already under pressure to find housing for almost 9,000 people who are currently in temporary accommodation.
In December 2022, the Welsh Government announced that it was cutting back the support provided to Ukrainian refugees in temporary accommodation. The UK Government also announced changes to the way it funds the Homes for Ukraine scheme. The Welsh Government said it was “disappointed” with the decision to reduce local authority funding by the UK Government.
In a recent statement, the Minister said she was working with the UK Government to work out what proportion of the £150 million UK Government fund for Ukrainian housing support will come to Wales:
We've put forward a proposal and we've been clear that clarity is needed urgently to enable local authorities to plan sufficiently.
In its draft budget the Welsh Government allocated £40 million to support Ukrainian refugees in 2023-24, reducing to £20 million to for 2024-25. The Equality and Social Justice and the Housing and Local Government Committees have both expressed concern that the unpredictable nature of the conflict could put “considerable pressure on the budget allocation”.
The war is “weighing heavily” on the global economy
The conflict has triggered soaring energy prices, creating negative impacts on economic growth, particularly in Europe.
While the UK narrowly avoided recession in 2022 and inflation is expected to decline through 2023, the OECD and International Monetary Fund (IMF) both expect negative UK economic growth in 2023 and predict that it will be the worst performer of the major economies due to a number of factors. The IMF recently revised down its growth predictions for the UK economy, stating that still-high energy prices are impacting household budgets along with UK-specific factors including “tighter fiscal and monetary policies and financial conditions”.
Over half (56%) of adults who have entered the UK under the Ukraine humanitarian schemes were working in October/November 2022, with a quarter of those working in the hospitality sector. This is one of the more adults who have entered under these schemes are able to support themselves and their dependents compared to earlier this year.
At the start of the war, predictions were made on its potential impacts on parts of the Welsh economy, including the semiconductor and electric vehicle sectors. The Welsh Government is refreshing its Manufacturing Plan to ensure that it’s still responding to the most important challenges the sector is facing in light of the war and rising energy costs.
“Freedom will win”
As winter recedes and fears of another large-scale Russian offensive renew, the Senedd once again affirmed its solidarity with Ukraine on 15 February. Members left no doubt that they stand shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine and will do so for as long as it takes.
On 8 February, President Zelenksy thanked the people of the UK, and of Wales, for their solidarity and support. He said:
We know freedom will win. We know Russia will lose.
And we really know the victory will change the world, and this will be a change the world has long needed.
The United Kingdom is marching with us towards the most important victory of our lifetime.
Article by Sara Moran, Claire Thomas and Gareth Thomas, Senedd Research, Welsh Parliament