PARIS — Thousands of people from around the world, from London to Paris to New York, took to the streets Thursday with chants, signs and a clear message to Russian President Vladimir Putin: We stand with Ukraine.
Mostly young Europeans had grown up with the belief that Europe was a continent that had left the wars of their ancestors behind. Overnight, that belief disappeared.
“We’ve been trying to build peace on this continent for the last 70 years,” said Goery Mourez, a 29-year-old French consultant, standing surrounded by protesters wrapped in Ukrainian flags and holding up posters that read “Stop Russia!”
“It’s important to say no to this man’s madness,” he said.
That sentiment was shared by protesters across large parts of the world. Protests erupted across major cities in Europe and the United States on Thursday in support of Ukraine, with demonstrators condemning Russia’s attack on its neighbor. In New York, hundreds gathered in Times Square to brandish the Ukrainian flag, while protesters in D.C. mobilized in front of the Russian Embassy. Similar scenes were on display in Madrid, Berlin, London, Paris and Tel Aviv.
The European Union’s headquarters in Brussels, Downing Street in London and the Colosseum in Rome were some of the landmarks that were lit up in the Ukrainian yellow and blue colors Thursday night.
Hundreds of Ukrainians — and some Britons and Russians, too — amassed outside 10 Downing Street on a chilly Thursday to show solidarity with Ukraine and to urge the British government to do more.
Protesters held aloft placards that read “sanction Putin’s dirty money” and “block Putin wallets” and “Putin is NOT Russians.” Many shouted, in Ukrainian, “glory to Ukraine,” a national salute.
As London’s iconic red double-decker buses passed by, one person on a loudspeaker said that Russia had made “trillions” from oil and gas — some of which has poured into the British capital, earning it the nickname “Londongrad.”
Mykhaylo Yatsyshyn, 40, a security manager who moved to Britain from Ukraine 20 years ago, agreed that Britain’s initially slapping sanctions on five banks and three individuals wasn’t enough to deter Putin. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, he said, should have done more “before things happened, that would have saved lives.”
He spoke about how he had arranged for his family to leave Ukraine for neighboring Poland. But his mother, a medic, doesn’t want to leave in case she can be of service, he said. “If I was there, I’d probably do the same thing and stay and try to help,” he said.
Orest Mykhaskiv, 31, a research scientist from Ukraine who lives in London, said that “this is one of the greatest disasters in European history in my lifetime at least. It’s a bit hard to see what can be done, but I remain optimistic that the West will still somehow try to help Ukraine.”
For many younger Europeans, the attack has cast what once appeared to be certainties into doubt.
“We are witnessing an epochal change in Europe,” said Victoria Montenegro, a 24-year-old who was demonstrating Thursday at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, which was illuminated with the colors of the Ukrainian flag. “Today I realized that our army needs to function. Usually I am pacifist. I always thought that’s a good thing when countries don’t have any army — like Costa Rica, for example. But I realized that the only things that will stop Russia is a sign of strength.”
In Paris, many similarly echoed the need for stronger military forces in the E.U., amid what they described as helplessness in watching Russia attack Ukraine.
Romanian citizen Fabiana Andreescu said it’s “heartbreaking” to see how her home country is protected by NATO treaties while neighboring Ukraine lacks such protection and is now exposed to Russia’s attack largely alone.
The 33-year-old software engineer moved to Paris more than 10 years ago and participated in the protest with her Russian partner.
She said her grandparents and parents “had this attitude that our generations were sacrificed for war and the Cold War, but you will get to live in another way.”
“Unfortunately, we now see that memory is very treacherous — and very fragile,” she said.