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Pro-Ukraine rallies across Europe on war anniversary

By Marion Payet with AFP bureaus Published Feb 25, 2024 9:23 am

Protesters rallied across Europe Saturday in support of Ukraine on the second anniversary of Moscow's invasion, urging greater Western backing as fears mount about Kyiv's ability to fend off an emboldened Russia.

Crowds gathered in Berlin, London, Paris, and other European cities, waving the blue and yellow Ukrainian flag and demanding that Russian President Vladimir Putin put an end to the war. 

When Putin sent his forces into Ukraine on February 24, 2022, it brought conflict back to Europe for the first time in decades, a geopolitical earthquake that sent shockwaves across the world.

With concerns growing about waning support from Ukraine's allies as an emboldened Moscow makes battlefield gains, there were calls at a protest at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate for accelerated arms deliveries.

Demonstrators take part in a rally commemorating the second anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine at the Old Town Square

Addressing thousands of supporters, some waving banners that read "arm Ukraine now", Berlin mayor Kai Wegner decried Putin's "brutal war of aggression".

"He wants to wipe out Ukraine, he wants to wipe out the identities of Ukrainians," he told the crowd, which organizers estimated at 10,000-strong while police gave a figure of 5,000. 

"But we won't let that happen."

He called on Berlin to deliver long-range Taurus missiles long sought by Kyiv, a demand the German government has so far refused for fears they could also strike inside Russia.

Valeria Zhylenko, a 32-year-old Ukrainian at the rally, recognized it was "more difficult now to support only Ukraine" due to other crises happening around the world. 

But she added: "I want to remind the world that we are still here, we are resisting... we still need this support."

In London, thousands of protesters marched to Trafalgar Square, waving banners that read "world support Ukraine", and "Russia is a terrorist state".

"Every single day people are dying, and the West is not supplying enough... weaponry, unfortunately," said Tania Zubashenko, a 54-year-old Ukrainian.

"They promise, but sometimes it's only words. We need real actions."

'Ukraine defending values'

Protests took place across France, with several thousand joining a march in central Paris, with shouts of "Putin murderer" and "Russia out of Ukraine" ringing out from the crowd. 

In the city of Rouen, mayor Nicolas Mayer-Rossignol told a crowd of several hundred that "Ukraine is defending its sovereignty but also its values and ideals, which are those of Europe. 

"Europe is at war—we cannot remain on the sidelines of this battle."

More than 1,000 protesters gathered in Warsaw—the capital of Poland, Ukraine's neighbor and a key ally—in front of the Russian embassy, waving Ukrainian flags. 

The demonstrators put up crosses with the names of victims of Russia's war, as well as models of buildings destroyed in Russian bombings. 

Demonstrations took place in numerous other cities across Europe, including Dublin, Athens, Stockholm, and Milan. 

Demonstrators display Ukrainian flags and placards during a rally to mark the second anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in Athens

At the Stockholm rally, Maryana Kostiv, a 22-year-old Ukrainian from Lviv, told AFP that she hoped for Ukraine to "win the war".

"Everything will end and all the Ukrainians can go back to Ukraine and start to live their normal lives again. That's all that I hope for," she told AFP.

Despite the show of support across the continent on Saturday, Europeans are becoming increasingly worried about Ukraine's faltering efforts to fend off Moscow. 

According to a survey released last week, only 10 percent of Europeans believe Ukraine can defeat Russia on the battlefield.

The survey conducted last month across 12 EU countries showed that on average 20 percent of those asked believed Russia could win, and 37 percent thought the conflict would end in a compromise settlement. (AFP)