Councillors gave a standing ovation to former headteacher and author on Ukrainian history MICHAEL DRAPAN who gave an emotional and impassioned speech at a full meeting of Kirklees Council at Huddersfield Town Hall on Wednesday night.
Speaking on behalf of Huddersfield Ukrainian community, and sometimes close to tears, Michael told of the community’s fears, hopes and aspirations and expressed his immense gratitude to the people of Huddersfield for their unwavering love and support.
This is Michael’s speech in full:
“I would like to express our gratitude to the officers of Kirklees, to the people of Kirklees for the huge outpouring that we have witnessed as a community with regards to the Ukrainian crisis.
“The solidarity that we have witnessed is unbelievable but it did not start last week or two weeks ago. It’s been going on for 70 years.
“When our parents arrived in Huddersfield, Dewsbury and Batley in 1948 they were destitute, they were penniless they couldn’t speak the language, they had no employment.
“Your towns opened their doors, you provided work in textiles and engineering and you allowed us to build a community that could aspire to independence for Ukraine but at the same time it allowed us to preserve our traditions, our culture, our roots and our language.
“In the 50s, 60s and 70s we protested, we had marches and demonstrations across Huddersfield, most culminating on the steps of the Town Hall.
“You supported us without fail. In 1991 when my parents and my community cried tears of joy when Ukrainian independence was declared the council rejoiced with us.
“In 2010 Kirklees Metropolitan Council became the fourth fastest council to recognise the Holodomor of 1932-33 as genocide. We will be eternally grateful to Kirklees for that.
“But we are now faced with an ever greater threat, a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions. We have seen in the last two weeks what the people of Kirklees can offer.
“Last week we sent 700 boxes of donations of clothes, medical supplies, toiletries, food from our club in Edgerton to Poland and Ukraine, all given freely by the people of Kirklees.
“Thousands and thousands of pounds are going to the biggest fund the Help Ukraine Emergency Appeal and with the help of the Red Cross that’s being distributed to where it’s needed.
“People are walking up our drive and putting envelopes into our letterbox with hundreds of pounds without even telling us who they are. That’s what Kirklees is doing for our people. Forgive me if I am getting a little emotional.
“We will continue with our donations and yesterday Kirklees were kind enough to grant us some storage space in one of your units. We thank you for that.
“I know for a fact that Kirklees has initiated the possibility of a multi-faith vigil. We thank you for that. That will bring all the faiths together and we will be even more connected.
“There are hopes we can have a benefit concert in this very Town Hall some time in May. Let’s hope that goes ahead.
“We know your councillors and officers are working behind the scenes frantically because the biggest challenge will be the influx of refugees and displaced persons.
“We as a community will be on board, we will do everything in our power to support the work that your executive are doing.
“I would now like to tell you a little bit about things that are causing us some fears and anxieties. As you know many people now are dying.
“Some of those people are relatives of the people of Huddersfield. People have asked me today on entry to the Town Hall on how have my wife and me been affected.
“In a nutshell we have one second cousin who is a medic, who is on the eastern front as we speak, tending to the wounded soldiers.
“I have two 18-year-old great nephews who have been called up as reservists. They are probably going to defend Kyiv.
“The women of the village of where our parents are from are frantically knitting throughout the night, they are making camouflage netting, clothing for the soldiers, they are bottling food to send to the front.
“We’ve got older men who can’t go and fight. What have they done? They have barricaded the village and are patrolling the perimeters with whatever they can find.
“The heroism, the stoicism, the bravery of our people and our president is there for everyone to see. But it’s also the support that we are getting as a nation from people like yourselves that is giving us hope.
“We dread not only the casualties, the injuries, the displacements, we also are afraid that we may lose our independence forever. That my daughter may have to start that fight again.
“I remember protesting and she may have to go back to that. That our institutions will be Russified. That our language will be lost. Our culture will be lost.
“But we still have an amazing hope. There are these amazing stories that are keeping us alive. The old lady who walked up to a Russian soldier with sunflower seeds who said: ‘These seeds are going to bloom on the rubble you’ve left behind’ – or the 80-year-old man with his suitcase with his sandwiches going to the recruitment station to say he has come to defend the city of Kyiv.
“Or the link of men and women who were walking along the streets to stop the tanks or even the lady who threw a jar of pickles and brought down a drone.
“There are some amazing stories. You’ve all seen the pictures of the young girls singing the Disney songs that are melting our hearts.
“All I can say is I beseech you, implore you to continue giving us your support. We will continue to work alongside you. Thank you for all you are doing for us.
“I would like to say that I have one dream left that one of our beautiful towns and cities that have been razed to the ground will rise from the ashes like the proverbial phoenix and it will be rebuilt stronger than before and it will be twinned with the town Huddersfield and that link, that solidarity that we have forged, will be set in stone for eternity.”
Thank you for listening to me.
Following a standing ovation, councillors of all parties unanimously approved a motion in support of Ukraine and its people.
The motion reads: “This council condemns the illegal invasion of Ukraine and expresses its solidarity with the Ukrainian people.
“Kirklees stands united with its residents of Ukrainian heritage and will continue to support them as this crisis unfolds.
“The council is grateful for the generosity shown by the people of Kirklees who have supported appeals for humanitarian assistance since the conflict began.
“The council will continue to support local communities and organisations who have been affected by the conflict.
“The council reaffirms Kirklees’ status as a place of welcome and sanctuary for refugees and urges the government to set out a comprehensive and humane refugee scheme for people displaced by the Ukraine conflict as a matter of urgency.”
If you are organising an event or raising money for the Ukraine appeal Huddersfield Hub wants to hear about it. Every Sunday we’ll have a round-up of events which we’ll promote to the wider community. Please email Steven Downes at email@example.com