Mass rally comes as Ukraine president urges citizens not to panic as the country faces the threat of a Russian invasion.
Published On 12 Feb 202212 Feb 2022
Waving flags and singing the national anthem, thousands of Ukrainians braved the winter cold to march across the capital Kyiv to show unity in the face of a feared Russian invasion.
“Panic is useless. We must unite and fight for independence,” said student Maria Shcherbenko on Saturday, expressing a sentiment similar to that voiced by Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy earlier in the day.
“I remain calm. I love Ukraine,” she said as the sun briefly peeked through the clouds on a blustery day.
Some carried signs reading “war is not the answer,” while others carried banners calling on the nation to “resist”.
Riven by an eight-year conflict that has claimed more than 14,000 across its Moscow-backed separatist east, Ukraine is now facing the threat of an all-out invasion by Russia.
The Kremlin has amassed an estimated 130,000 troops around its western neighbour, staging war games across Belarus to its north and navy drills in the Black Sea to its south.
Washington has warned war could break out “any day”. Western countries are pulling their diplomats out of Kyiv and ordering citizens to immediately get out of Ukraine. NATO allies have also stepped up support for Kyiv by sending additional troops and military equipment to Ukraine.
Moscow has claimed its actions are necessary to secure vital security interests and blames NATO for undermining the region’s security.
And even Kyiv – despite calls for calm from Zelenskyy and a range of other leaders – has prepared a plan to evacuate the capital’s three million residents, just in case.
‘Fight to the end’
But the people marching across Kyiv’s central avenues said they had no fear.
“We are here to show that we are not afraid,” said Nazar Novoselsky, who came to the march with his two little children.
“We will lay our soul and body for the cherished freedom,” the crowd sang, voicing the words of the national anthem, just as they had done en masse in the months leading up to Ukraine’s 2014 pro-EU revolution.
The 2014 revolt provoked the Kremlin into annexing Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula and then backing a rebellion across parts of the former Soviet republic’s mostly Russian-speaking industrial east.
Russia also does not want Ukraine in NATO – and has said as much on its list of security demands that were sent to the United States last December. Those included a halt to any NATO drills near Russia’s border.
Many of these ultimatums have been slammed as non-starters by the West. It also wants NATO to withdraw from Eastern Europe.
The move by Western countries to pull out their nationals from the country has made many people “rather anxious”, according to Al Jazeera’s Natacha Butler, reporting from Kyiv.
“Right now people are in a very unpredictable situation,” she said.
At the march, which was attended by veterans of Ukraine’s war in the east of the country with Russian-backed separatists, people said they are “proud of their country”.
Relations between Moscow and Kyiv have been severely strained since 2014, with that tension showing in the crowd.
“Why should Putin be telling us what to do?” Natalia Savostikova, a 67-year-old doctor, said.
Al Jazeera and news agencies