Perth diplomat ‘defies Putin’ to toast Robert Burns in Ukraine

Perth diplomat Martin Harris toasted Scotland’s national bard Robert Burns in Kyiv on Wednesday even as Russia stepped up its aerial bombardment of the Ukrainian capital.

Mr Harris, the UK’s ambassador to Ukraine, donned a kilt and a traditional Ukrainian ‘vyshyvanka’ as around 30 guests celebrated Scottish culture and music at the British embassy.

The event also include readings of Ukrainian poetry.

Since Russia’s war against Ukraine began, some 95 Ukrainian writers and poets have been killed on the front line. A minute’s silence was held in their honour.

Martin, 54, said: “Our Burns event is a gesture of solidarity with the brave Ukrainian people who, each day, show they will not be cowed by Russian aggression.

“Robert Burns has long been admired here with his verses translated into Ukrainian.

Burns ‘would have supported Britain helping Ukraine’

“This Burns celebration is a small gesture to demonstrate that we are steadfast in our resolve, and a wonderful opportunity to share Scotland’s culture with our Ukrainian friends. Our links grow even stronger.

“Burns was very much an internationalist and no doubt he would have been supportive of what Britain has been doing to help Ukraine combat Russia’s illegal war.”

The Burns celebration comes after Rishi Sunak confirmed £2.5billion of military aid for Ukraine in 2024/25.

Martin Harris with Ukrainian poet Lyubov Yakymchuck. Image: Foreign Office.

Mr Harris, who joined the Foreign Office in 1991, was said to have been determined to celebrate the life of Robert Burns despite the war.

He said: “I’ve always loved using Burns Night to promote Scotland wherever I have worked in the world.

“This year, the security situation has presented its own challenges, such as how to get some haggis in and we have managed to find a bagpiper for this special event.

Burns Night: A ‘living tradition’ or relic of a bygone ‘biscuit tin’ Scotland?

“I was delighted that Ukraine’s leading poet Serhiy Zhadan responded to my invitation to recite a poem by Robert Burns for our celebration.”

Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron said: “Burns Night is a great opportunity to celebrate the important efforts of the many Scots working across the UK Government’s global network, who are at the very forefront of delivering our foreign policy around the world.

“It says a lot about the passion for Robert Burns that events are being hosted in so many countries, not least in war-torn Ukraine.

“The £2.5 billion of military aid announced by the Prime Minister on his visit to Kyiv earlier this month shows that the UK is unfaltering in our determination to stand up to Vladimir Putin’s attack on freedom and democracy.”

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