MP’s Notebook: Ukraine and Marcelo Bielsa

Although in our hearts we probably knew it was coming, no words can quite convey the profound shock we all felt when we woke up to discover that Russian forces had started their invasion of Ukraine.

This is not a conflict in a far-off country of which we know little. This is a brutal war in modern cities which are part of Europe. A war against a proud sovereign state which has done nothing to threaten Russia, but which President Putin seems determined to seize by brute force.

The Russian army is large and powerful and its troops have been massing on the borders of Ukraine for many weeks now, but as I write this article, Ukrainian forces and civilians are doing their level best to resist.

People talk about the fog of war and the first casualty being truth, but thanks to the brave reporting from correspondents and citizen journalists throughout the country we can see and feel the determination of the Ukrainian people to resist.

And even if Russia is eventually able to depose the Ukrainian government, it is going to have a really hard time attempting to hold on in the face of a population that will continue to resist with all its might. And the great irony in all this is that by his actions, President Putin has actually strengthened Europe and the NATO alliance. His country is now a pariah. It is facing political and economic isolation. Sanctions will bite. Russia’s sporting teams will no longer be welcome anywhere. Russian planes cannot fly into or across Europe.

Germany has announced a big increase in military expenditure. The European Union has taken the unprecedented step of saying that it will join the UK and others in buying and supplying weapons to help Ukraine resist the invaders.
NATO will end up putting more troops into member states in Europe; the very opposite of what President Putin was hoping to achieve. And in Moscow and other Russian cities brave Russians have taken to the streets to protest against the war, even though they know that they will be arrested. Above all, President Putin despises democracy and freedom.

The conflict has also brought out heroism. People who have never picked up a weapon in their lives are taking receipt of AK-47s and learning how to shoot. Trenches are being dug. And the symbol of defiance that is President Volodymyr Zelensky. He is of Jewish descent and three of his great uncles were murdered in the Holocaust, so he understands why brutal dictators must be defeated. And as he has stuck by his post in Kiev, he has given heart and inspiration to his fellow citizens with his regular video broadcasts.

Watching the news reports and video footage, there is an eerie echo of the newsreel films of the Second World War. Burnt out tanks. Street by street battles. And long lines of refugees seeking to escape to safety. Those who can leave are heading West into Poland and beyond. Some of them will want to come to Britain because they have family here. It is our responsibility to offer them a warm welcome.

After all, what this conflict reminds us is that the progress we have enjoyed since 1945 has not ended the possibility of war happening again on our continent. And each of us knows that if it was our country being invaded and we had to flee elsewhere, we would be so grateful to those who extended the hand of friendship and took us in.
It is the very least anyone can do in the face of such brutality.

The end of Marcelo Bielsa’s time as Leeds United’s manager, with the club just above the relegation zone, may in footballing terms be not altogether surprising. Being a manager in the Premiership is a very tough and uncertain business, and every season sees its casualties.

But what has been really special and striking is the admiration and affection for him – the man and the manager – that Leeds United fans expressed as news of his departure spread.

They know that nothing can take away the memories of his extraordinary success in bringing the club back into the Premiership, where it belongs, and in the process creating a team that was so exciting and such a joy to watch.
Their feelings were best summed up in the remarkable farewell letter addressed to him by the Leeds United Supporters’ Trust who said this:

“All that’s left to say … is that we love you. And you will be loved in this city, and by Leeds fans across the world, forever.

“Thank you, Marcelo. Saludos Cordiales.”