Harborough MP Neil O’Brien today branded Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “unimaginably evil” amid growing fears the war poses the biggest threat to world peace for 60 years.
The Conservative MP accused Russian leader Vladimir Putin of being “very unbalanced” and “capable of anything” as the conflict has triggered Europe’s biggest humanitarian crisis since the end of the Second World War in 1945.
And Neil said his heart goes out to local Ukrainian people like Market Harborough man Oleksii who have loved ones under fire and facing constant death in war-torn Ukraine.
“This war is unimaginable and it is unimaginably evil.
“I never thought we would see this sort of devastating military onslaught in a European country like Ukraine in the 21st century.
“Putin is acting like a man who is very unbalanced,” the shocked MP told the Harborough Mail from the House of Commons.
“This is a man who sits at a table 30 metres away from the person he’s meeting.
“This is a man who is capable of anything.
“This is a man who has to face justice one day for the many atrocious and barbaric acts his forces are carrying out against Ukrainian civilians every day of the week,” said Neil.
“There is talk about Putin facing trial for war crimes.
“We have seen deadly cluster bombs dropped on innocent people in Ukraine, we’ve seen terrified people fleeing cities under attack in so-called ceasefires who are being shelled, bombed and killed.
“We have seen Russian equipment capable of delivering terrible and devastating thermobaric weapons on towns and cities.
“Russian forces have attacked nuclear power stations – putting the whole of Europe at serious risk.
“All of us would like to see Putin brought to justice.
“My heart goes out to people like Oleksii and every other Ukrainian person across Harborough.
“I can’t imagine what it must be like knowing that their friends and families are caught up in the middle of this horrifying warzone,” said Neil.
“This is the biggest threat to world peace since the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.
“I can understand why the peoples of neighbouring states like Poland, Moldova and the Baltic states fear that they may be next because no one knows what Putin will do.
“But these countries are all members of NATO.
“Along with the likes of the US, we have been steadily building up our air and ground forces in those frontline states.
“And if Putin did order his forces to attack them then NATO would react and hit back straight away.”
Talking to the Mail last week, Oleksii, 41, called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to send RAF warplanes to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine.
But Neil told us: “We cannot do that.
“If an RAF Typhoon shot down a Russian MiG then the conflict could rapidly escalate – and even trigger World War Three.
“So we have to continue to give Ukraine vital arms, weapons and ammunition as well as humanitarian aid.
“Putin has seriously under-estimated the incredible courage and the fortitude of the Ukrainian people.
“They are heroic and they deserve all the support that we can give them at this horrific time,” said the MP.
Cllr Phil King, who leads Harborough District Council, told the Mail: “This war is a total tragedy on every level.
“It is a tragedy for the Ukrainian people, of course, but it is also a tragedy for the Russian people too.
“Any right-minded person wants this horrible war to be stopped now.
“Here in Harborough we are looking to set up a new web page by the middle of this week showing local people how they can show their support for Ukraine,” said Cllr King.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone caught up in this shocking conflict.
“Very soon after the invasion of Ukraine, our council started to check with contractors and suppliers that there is no link to Russian business and no links have yet been found.
“We are also working with partners from the Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland Local Resilience Forum to set up a group to co-ordinate housing, for example, for any refugees that come to our area, as well as looking at other ways we can provide support.
“We have sent a letter of support to the Ukrainian Ambassador and the council has changed the lights on the Symington Building and in The Square in Market Harborough to yellow and blue,” added Cllr King.
“The council will also be flying the Ukrainian flag from the Symington Building.”
He spoke as Oleksii, 41, said his hero 34-year-old sister is facing danger every day as their home city of Chernihiv is bombarded by Russian warplanes and heavy artillery.
Hundreds of men, women and children have been killed in the key strategic city to the north-west of under-fire capital Kyiv after entire tower blocks have been blown up in savage assaults.
The besieged people of Chernihiv are now being forced to dig trenches to bury their civilian dead after Russian bombs hammered the city's main cemetery making burials impossible.
Distraught Oleksii told us: “My sister is risking her life to help people and families in the city – she is so brave.
“She’s delivering food and water to people in Chernihiv every day.
“She’s doing so well helping to keep those poor people still alive in such terrible conditions,” said Oleksii, who’s lived in Market Harborough for two years.
“The city I grew up in has become a terrible warzone.
“I started telling my sister last October to start stockpiling food and water because I feared that war was coming.
“She found it hard to believe at the time.
“But she’s thanking me now because very sadly I have been proved right,” said Oleksii, who also has a 20-year-old daughter, two brothers and many other loved ones still in Ukraine.
“I try to talk to my sister in Chernihiv every day.
“Of course, I am very worried for her.
“Russian warplanes and gunship helicopters have been attacking our city too.
“It is terrifying.
“I have a brother living in Chernihiv and a brother in Kyiv.
“They are not soldiers but they are taking up arms to join many other people over there fighting Russian forces,” said Oleksii, whose two young children here attend schools in Market Harborough.
“My daughter is living in Odessa on the Black Sea with her boyfriend so I fear for her too.
“But Putin and all of his Russian military power will never win.
“We are Ukrainians – we will never surrender.
“We will keep fighting, we will never give up.”
Oleksii is also mounting an urgent appeal in Harborough to collect vital supplies for Ukrainian refugees.
He is being backed up by Market Harborough’s five Anglican churches.
Oleksii is asking for sleeping bags, tents, camping mats, bottles of water (5 litre), non-perishable food (pasta/rice, tins with ring pulls), nappies/wipes, toothpaste/toothbrushes, sanitary products, antibacterial wipes and bandages.
You can deliver your donations to St Dionysius Church on Market Harborough’s High Street and leave them in the left-hand balcony (kitchen side) or contact Jo Grant on 07974 296727.
Oleksii hopes to travel to the Ukrainian border on Friday (March 11) so please donate any items as soon as you can.
He is planning to ferry the supplies on the 3,000-mile round journey by car.
But please get in touch with Jo if you can lend him a van to make the gruelling trip deep into eastern Europe.