No Russian envoy for Liberation ceremony after UK expulsions

No Russian envoy for Liberation ceremony after UK expulsions

With the exception of the height of the Cold War in the 1970s, Russia has had a regular presence at the event, sending a military attaché to more than 55 Liberation Day celebrations.

For the past three years the role has been filled by UK-based Russian diplomat Commander Igor Elkin. His duties have included attending the special States sitting as a guest of the Bailiff, and laying a wreath at the Slave and Forced Workers Memorial at Westmount in memory of the hundreds of Russian PoWs brought to the islands as slave workers during the Second World War.

The memorial ceremony is organised by Gary Font, the son of Spanish Republican forced worker Fransico Font, who was among several wartime workers who made their home in Jersey after the war.

He was informed yesterday that due to staff shortages caused by the UK government’s recent expulsion of embassy staff following the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter they have had to pull out at short notice. It is not known whether Commander Elkin is among the expelled diplomats.

Mr Font says he is disappointed that Russia will not be represented on what is such an important day for them, as they also celebrate the end of the Second World War on 9 May.

‘I understand the embassy’s priorities are to attend memorials taking place elsewhere in the UK,’ he said. ‘Nevertheless, a wreath will be laid in memory of the Soviet citizens who suffered in Jersey and the tens of millions of Soviet citizens who died in the Second World War.’

The Slave and Forced Workers Memorial ceremony has taken place in the grounds of the Crematorium since the early 1960s.

This year’s speaker is local historian and the JEP’s First World War expert writer, Ian Ronayne.

‘It is a great honour to be invited to speak at the ceremony,’ he said. ‘The story of Jersey’s Occupation is a multi-layered one, involving many different individuals, groups and nationalities.

‘High among the “never-to-be-forgotten” elements are those who were brought here by the Nazis to work on the fortification programme. As they sadly fade from living memory, it’s important that we who follow remember their suffering and sacrifice through researching, understanding and retelling their story as often as possible.’

Slave and forced workers came from many countries including Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Spain and France. They were forced to help turn the Channel Islands into fortresses as part of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall that stretched from the coast of Norway to the French border with Spain.

Mr Ronayne’s talk will be followed by a wreath-laying ceremony to be led by the Lieutenant-Governor, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton. Wreaths will also be laid by the Bailiff, Sir William Bailhache, Chief Minister Ian Gorst, the Island’s religious communities and church leaders and families of forced workers.

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