“We are not ready to give up” – Protests in Prague after the Russian invasion of Ukraine

Since Thursday morning, the streets of Prague have been largely silent and people speak little as Czechs digest the shock of a full Russian invasion on the territory of a sovereign state.

Ukrainians are people most Czechs know well. Indeed, with more than 200,000 of them living in the country, Ukrainians constitute the second largest minority in the Czech Republic after Slovak citizens. This, combined with similar past experiences with Russia and the Soviet Union, led to hundreds of people gathering in Wenceslas Square on Thursday to show solidarity with Ukraine.

A wide array of flags, some Ukrainian, some Czech, Slovak or the red and white of the Belarusian opposition, were waved around the statue of St Wenceslas, accompanied by prayers, calls for “glory to Ukraine ” and various other words. Support. Many wore the blue and yellow colors of Ukraine, while others held signs with slogans such as “Stop Putin’s crime”, or “We won’t give you Ukraine, Ivan”.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Ukrainians also made up a large number of those who showed up for the protest. Among them was Masha, a young Ukrainian who took part in the Maidan revolution in 2014.

“It was terrible and until the last moment I didn’t believe it was really possible. We’re really hoping for the best right now, we’re expecting support, and like I said, we’re not ready to give up.

Do you think about what will happen in the future or are you still convinced that Ukraine will fight back?

“Absolutely. Ukraine will defend itself. It is guaranteed. In the worst case scenario, we really hope that the Czech Republic and other countries of the European Union can take action and help Ukraine to defend itself .

What do you think would be the most helpful thing the EU or “the West” could do for Ukraine in this situation? Is it the penalties?

“Sanctions, of course. As for me, I am not looking to escape and neither is my family. We are on our territory and seek to protect it. We are not going anywhere and we really hope for financial and military support, but we are not ready to give up our lands.

Do you have family members fighting in Ukraine?

Demonstration in Wenceslas Square in Prague, February 24, 2022 |  Photo: Martina Schneibergova, Radio Prague International

“Yes. In fact, my whole family is there. This morning, my father did his military service in our region.

Did he tell you anything?

“He told me to take care of myself and not worry about him.”

Also in the crowd were Volodya and Katya, a Ukrainian couple studying in the Czech Republic. They said they felt alone against Russia, without serious international support.

“I think the world should at least do something, because they’re not doing anything right now.”

“At least we can be here to show our protest, maybe donate to the Ukrainian military and just pray.”

What do you think of the Czech government’s announcement of its opening to Ukrainian refugees? Will you or your family members use this option? »

“My mum and dad will be in Ukraine, because my dad doesn’t just want to leave the country. He wants to fight. However, I would like my sister to be here, as she is 18 and I am worried about her.

The Ukrainian Ambassador to the Czech Republic said earlier [on Thursday] that he expects Ukrainians to return to their home country now, to help defend it rather than the other way around. Have you also thought of returning to Ukraine, precisely at this time? Is it time for a Ukrainian to return to his country?

“I definitely think there will be people coming back. It’s a time when you really want to help your country and I don’t really think we can do at least anything here.

“I’m just scared, because even though I was in Ukraine. I couldn’t help.

A few dozen meters from them, a group of young people chose to express their anger and shock higher by shouting insults at Russian President Vladimir Putin.

However, even in this situation, Katya emphasized the importance of being fair to Russians living in Czechia.

“I would also like to say that I heard some stories from my friends here, where, for example, the professor at the university said that those who are from Russia cannot attend the conference. I don’t think it’s good to hate all Russians, because of the situation. Especially since these Russians who are here are here for a reason: they don’t like their politics.

Have you noticed that people are getting a little more angry with Russia these days?

“I told you I had a few stories. For example, my friend was talking with her mom on the phone and a guy just…

“Spit on his shoe.”

“Because she speaks Russian. But I’m from Ukraine and I also speak Russian, simply because we are used to it when we talk in family. That doesn’t mean that I’m a bad person because I speak Russian.

People demonstrate outside the Russian Embassy in Prague, February 24, 2022 |  Photo: Michal Krumphanzl, ČTK

Thursday also saw a small group of protesters gather outside the huge Russian Embassy in Prague. Investigated by local police, the protest passed off peacefully, but outrage at what had happened led one of the protesters to kick the metal fence separating the group from the fence of the embassy, ​​before being quickly driven away by the police. “A sudden burst of emotion,” he told Czech radio, “I’m not an aggressive person, but this is the Russian Embassy, ​​the only place where you can have at least some affecting.” His family, he said, are still in Kyiv and are worried about the lack of food.

Besides the protests, many Czechs also donate money to Ukraine and its armed forces. According to Šimon Pánek, director of one of the main Czech human rights NGOs, Člověk v tísni, more than 100 million Czech crowns have been donated by Czechs to Ukraine in the last three days.

“As far as possible, the money will be used to help Ukraine. At the moment it is not known what will happen. The situation is changing very quickly. Today it is mostly people fleeing Ukraine. Not much is happening in Ukraine. The money will mainly be used to support families, people on the run, whether they are in western Ukraine or in neighboring states. However, it will also be used to help Ukrainians find refuge in the Czech Republic, if necessary.

Berta D. Wells