Portrait of the week

Portrait of the week: Zelensky channels Churchill, Russia blocks BBC and Bercow banned from parliament

12 March 2022

9:00 AM

12 March 2022

9:00 AM


President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine addressed a packed House of Commons by video, echoing Winston Churchill by declaring that Ukrainians would fight in the fields and in the streets. He said: ‘Please make sure that our Ukrainian skies are safe.’ Wearing a blue and yellow tie, the Speaker, clearly moved, thanked him. Earlier, Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, announced a ban on Russian oil imports in the coming months, but no ban on gas imports. He proposed a six-point plan that included an international humanitarian coalition and maximising economic pressure on Vladimir Putin’s regime in Russia. Mr Johnson also said the government would publish a strategy for producing more energy in the UK. Petrol rose above 155p a litre. The Commons rushed through the economic crime bill, intended to exert sanctions against Russian oligarchs and suchlike miscreants.

John Bercow, the former speaker of the House of Commons, was prohibited for life from obtaining a security pass to parliament after the Independent Expert Panel upheld 21 allegations against him, including unfounded criticism of Lord Lisvane, the former Commons Clerk, made ‘at length and at volume’ with ‘derogatory inferences about his upbringing’.

In the seven days up to 7 March, 786 people had died with coronavirus, bringing total deaths (within 28 days of testing positive) to 162,147. Numbers with Covid remaining in hospital in the UK stayed level at about 10,700. Paulette Hamilton, a retired nurse, won the by-election at Erdington, Birmingham, for Labour with 55 per cent of the vote in a turn-out of 27 per cent; the Lib Dems came sixth, well behind the Trotskyist Dave Nellist. The Queen resumed face-to-face engagements, meeting Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada.


More than two million people had fled Ukraine in the first two weeks of Russia’s invasion. Russia called it a ‘special operation’; the Pope called Ukraine a ‘martyred country’. Civilian flats and houses were systematically bombarded. The 400,000 people of Mariupol were left without light, heat, water or sanitation. Their houses burned and bodies lay in the street. A mother and her two children, on foot, were killed by mortars on the road out of Irpin, north-west of Kiev. In Chernihiv, 47 were reported to have been killed by a Russian air strike as they queued for food. About 5,000 managed to leave Sumy, a city of 250,000. Lt-Gen Scott Berrier, the head of the US Defense Intelligence Agency, told a US Congressional hearing that between 2,000 and 4,000 Russian troops had been killed. A plan by Poland to supply Ukraine with jets ran into difficulties. Russia said it would stop fighting if Ukraine gave up the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, recognised Crimea as Russian and amended its constitution to guarantee neutrality, forswearing ambitions to join Nato or the EU.

The International Atomic Energy Agency expressed ‘grave concern’ at the situation at Zaporizhzhya nuclear power station, the largest in Europe, where Russian forces were giving orders. Hundreds of people in the Ukrainian city of Kherson, occupied by Russian forces, protested in the street; the city then ran out of food. In Russia 4,644 demonstrators were arrested on one day, according to the monitors OVD-Info. Russia passed a law that provided for a sentence of up to 15 years for anyone spreading military information deemed to be untrue. Russia took BBC World News off the air and blocked access to its website; the BBC revived short-wave radio broadcasts to Russia and Ukraine.

President Joe Biden of the US announced an import ban on Russian oil, gas and coal. Shell bought a tanker of Russian crude oil and then apologised for it. The EU hoped to reduce Russian gas imports by two-thirds this year, but Russia threatened to cut off the main gas pipeline to the EU anyway. Visa and Mastercard suspended operations in Russia and McDonald’s closed its 850 branches. The total in the world reported to have died with coronavirus reached 6,015,066 by the beginning of the week. A Shia mosque in the Pakistani city of Peshawar was bombed and at least 56 people killed. In Kebbi state, north-west Nigeria, gunmen killed 60 members of groups set up to protect villages against attacks by armed gangs. Shane Warne, the Australian spin bowler, died aged 52; his family accepted a state funeral for him. CSH

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