Six months of protests at Dublin’s Russian embassy: ‘We have other things to do but this is more important’

Since the invasion of Ukraine, Orwell Road has become the site of daily protests and regular media attention

Six months ago Orwell Road in Rathgar, Dublin was a “very quiet” and “peaceful” place, locals say, but since the invasion of Ukraine in late February the street, where the Russian embassy is located, has become the site of daily protests and regular media attention.

For long-time resident Maureen, who has lived on the road for 40 years, things have “changed completely”. However, she is quick to emphasise that residents are overwhelmingly supportive of the pro-Ukraine demonstrators, gesturing to the blue and yellow flags flying outside almost every house.

In early April, a leaflet accompanied by a Ukrainian flag was delivered to 29 houses along the road, asking the residents to display them. They were posted by Darren Twyford, who lives close by.

Twyford told the residents that erecting the flags may “provide the terrorised people of Ukraine with moral support; a feeling that they are not alone”.


He was “amazed” to discover some days later that all of the flags he delivered were displayed on makeshift flag poles, trees and walls, he says.

Maureen and her husband were also “very proud” to see the flags up along the road.

“I think it’s important to let the embassy see that we support Ukraine,” she says.

“The protesters can sometimes be very noisy but it doesn’t bother me unduly. When diplomats are going in or out they shout at them with… different words. But I’m very sympathetic and I think it’s working in the sense that it’s keeping what’s happening high profile. They continue every day whether there’s rain or not. Even if it’s a bit noisy, I feel for what Ukraine is going through far more, and my husband feels the same.”

Outside the embassy last Monday, 10 protesters gathered with placards condemning the war, chanting “shame on you” at diplomats as their cars entered the premises.

John Farrelly started protesting about two weeks after the war began and has continued “almost every day” since.

The people who come here every day are “of a certain age and a certain vintage”, he says, explaining that most of them “have the time because we’re retired”.

“I felt a bit helpless. I was making financial contributions but I felt I needed to be more active than that. People who come here every day are from different backgrounds and have different views on some topics but quite clearly we’re all united on being incensed by the murder and the mayhem in Ukraine.”

Farrelly notes that few young people are attending the daily protests, almost six months into the war.

“It seems funny to me that there isn’t more of a presence particularly from the student movement who’d traditionally be anti-war and who would have time to skip a lecture or two,” he says.

“There have been bigger protests that were more well attended by younger groups but as the months go on I think there’s a sense that the war is over there and we’re over here. But as I would see it, the implications for the entire world are massive.”

Protester Julian Vignoles shares this view.

“I think it’s interesting that the group of us on this picket are generally moderates. The disappointing thing for me is that there are so few young people and so few on the left turning up,” he says.

“It’s important to be here as a way of showing solidarity with Ukrainian people and I hope it’s making the Russians in the embassy uncomfortable.”

Vignoles is motivated to continue showing up every day “because of people who make excuses for Russia”. A recent example of this was Sabina Higgins’s letter to The Irish Times calling for peace talks, he says.

“It was making out that one side is as bad as the other and that really gets my goat.”

He protested against the wars in Iraq and Vietnam, but most of the 10-15 daily regulars have never been protesters for any cause before.

A group of three retired women – Helen, Eileen and Valerie – sit on stools outside the embassy on Monday holding parasols and fans to cool down in the 23 degree heat.

“We protest no matter what. We have to be here because the Russians are such liars. If we weren’t here, they’d frame it as everyone in Ireland being in favour of the war,” Helen remarks.

“We’re here because of the gross injustice of the situation – all because one little man needs to have a Peter the tsar complex. We’re retired civil servants, teachers, doctors and community workers. We’d like a quiet life and we have other things to do but this is more important.”

The women decline to give their surnames due to “concerns about you know who” looking across at the embassy.

“Some days you think ‘maybe I won’t go along today’ but then you read about some other atrocity in the paper and it strengthens your resolve to come along. I thought there’d be huge numbers here because it’s one of the clearest cases of right and wrong that we’ve ever seen,” Valerie says.

The irony of the name of the road is “not lost” on the protesters, nor the residents. Earlier this year, a proposal to change the name to “Independent Ukraine Road” was unanimously passed by a subcommittee of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. But those living in the area who spoke to The Irish Times were not in favour or were indifferent towards renaming it.

The street falls within both the Dublin City Council (DCC) area and the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown area, which makes the process for changing the name “a little more complicated”, a spokeswoman for DCC said.

A spokesman for Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown said the council was still “looking into the processes involved with the name change” but this would not happen “without consultation with the residents”.

Another resident, Conlith, who has lived on the road for 20 years, joined the protests in the beginning and is “quite supportive” of those who remain outside the embassy on a daily basis.

There has been “some disturbance” down the years outside the Russian embassy due to its actions in other countries, “but there was nothing like this before”, he says.

Conlith “hopes the flags make the Russians uncomfortable”.

“I’d say they really hate it. There are flags everywhere and it’s great. No one has taken a flag down so I think it’s clear the residents support Ukraine.”

The Russian embassy did not respond to a request for comment from The Irish Times.

Jade Wilson

Jade Wilson

Jade Wilson is a reporter for The Irish Times