Tens of thousands of people rallied Sunday in cities across Europe to protest against Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine, with small vigils taking place in Russia as well despite a crackdown by authorities against such demonstrations.
German trade unions called a protest in Berlin, where sunny weather boosted the turnout. The march led from the city’s Alexanderplatz — a large square named after Russian Tsar Alexander I — to a site near the Brandenburg Gate.
Many participants carried flags in the blue and yellow colors of Ukraine, while others bore banners reading “Stop the War” and “Peace and Solidarity for the people in Ukraine.”
Norbert Herring, who held up a sign that read “What are you doing to your neighbor?” as the crowds filed past the Russian Embassy, said the images from Ukraine reminded him of the bombing of cities during World War II.
Several participants at the Berlin protest said they were Russians ashamed about what their country was doing.
“We’re against this war so we wanted to show our solidarity,” said Aleksandra Belozerova, a Russian studying in Germany. “It’s the least we can do in this situation.”
Her friend, Aliia Biktagirova, held a sign with letters for the Russian phrase for “No War” represented as asterisks to reflect the censorship she said is taking place in Russia concerning the conflict.
In Russia, where demonstrations against the war in Ukraine have been typically met with a heavy police response, rights group OVD-Info said more than 800 people had been detained in 36 cities as of early evening Moscow time.
An AFP journalist reporting from a protest in the capital Moscow witnessed at least a dozen arrests and said police were taking away anybody without press papers. A young woman was shouting “peace to the world” as she was taken away by two policemen, the journalist said.
Some of the riot police had the letter “Z” in the colors of the Russian flag on their helmets, the AFP reporter said. The letter, seen on Russian tanks and vehicles in Ukraine, has become a symbol of support for what Moscow calls its “special military operation.”
Law enforcement in Moscow said Sunday evening they had detained around 300 people in the capital’s center for breaches of public order. In Russia’s second city Saint Petersburg, AFP saw multiple arrests, including a protester being dragged across the ground. According to AFP, several journalists were detained.
The number of people protesting nationwide appeared to be far fewer than the last major protests a week ago, when OVD-Info listed more than 5,000 people who were detained.
Protests were also staged in Warsaw, London and the German cities of Frankfurt, Hamburg and Stuttgart.
In Rome, Pope Francis decried the “barbarianism” of the killing of children and other defenseless civilians in Ukraine. He told a crowd estimated by the Vatican to number 25,000 people gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his customary Sunday noon appearance that the attacks must stop “before cities are reduced to cemeteries.”
In Cyprus, dozens of Russian nationals joined Ukrainians in the coastal resort town of Limassol Sunday to protest the war in Ukraine. About 50 Russians converged on Limassol’s promenade prior to joining with other protesters to chant slogans such as “Stop the war, stop Putin” and waving blue and white flags they said were the Russian national flag without the red stripe that represented “blood and violence.”
Protester Evgeniya Shlikava, who has been living and working in Cyprus for five years, told The Associated Press that despite Russian propaganda, Ukraine “didn’t deserve this action from our government” and that protesters demand an immediate end to the war “that we don’t support.”
“I do believe that the person who did the most to make Russia weak and not united is (Vladimir) Putin himself,” said Shlikava, who faulted the Russian president and his supporters for bringing the world’s wrath on a Russia proud of its humanistic values and culture. “But now Russia is the aggressor for the whole world, and we protest it.”
Earlier Sunday, Ukrainian nationals in Taiwan and supporters also staged a march in Taipei to protest the Russian invasion.
Meanwhile, Russia said Sunday that negotiators were making headway at talks to resolve the fighting in Ukraine.
Leonid Slutsky, a senior member of Russia’s negotiating team, told the state-run television network RT that “significant progress” was made following several rounds of talks hosted on the border of neighboring Belarus.
“If we compare the positions of both delegations at the start of the talks and now, we see significant progress,” he told the network according to Russian news agencies.
“My own expectations are that this progress could develop over the next few days into a unified position held by both delegations in documents to be signed,” agencies cited him as saying.
Negotiators from Moscow and Kyiv have held several rounds of talks since Putin sent in troops to the country. Turkey this week hosted a first meeting between the Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers.
Earlier Sunday, a senior Ukraine adviser and presidential aide, Mikhailo Podolyak, wrote on Twitter that Russia had stopped issuing “ultimatums” and instead “carefully listens to our positions.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Saturday that Russia had adopted a “fundamentally different approach” in the talks.
Meanwhile Russian President Vladimir Putin this week said there had been “some positive shifts” in the dialogue and that negotiations were being held almost daily.