By Cecile Mantovani and Stefica Nicol Bikes
GENEVA/SYDNEY (Reuters) -In a sea of blue and yellow flags and banners, protesters around the world showed their support for the people of Ukraine on Saturday and called on governments to do more to help Kyiv, punish Russia and avoid a broader conflict.
Several hundred people marched through heavy rain in Sydney chanting “Ukraine will prevail”, while protesters in Tokyo called for Russia to be expelled from the United Nations Security Council.
Thousands of people also took to the streets in Europe, with protesters – including many Ukrainians living abroad – in London, Nicosia, Berlin, Athens, Helsinki, Madrid and Milan draping themselves in flags and holding “stop the war” placards.
“You look at the people gathered here and everybody is scared … We had peace for 80 years and all of a sudden, war is back in Europe,” said Stefan Pischel, among a crowd of some 2,500 in Munich’s Karlsplatz square.
A rally that organisers estimated to number 20,000 people was held in the Swiss capital of Bern. The Ukrainian flag flew over the seat of the city council.
Some called for the Swiss government to take tougher action against Russia and President Vladimir Putin, who said he ordered the “special military operation” not to occupy territory but to destroy Ukraine’s military capabilities and capture what the Kremlin regards as dangerous nationalists.
In Istanbul, Ukrainians living in Turkey sang their national anthem and held banners with images of bloody handprints.
“My family is in Kyiv region and they are attacking Kyiv today. I don’t know what to do, what to think. I am calling them every 10 to 15 minutes,” a protester who gave her name as Victoria said.
“I hope the whole world will … just stand up and do something to protect our families.”
Hundreds of people demonstrated in the square in front of the United Nations headquarters in Geneva, carrying signs such “Make Ukraine a member of NATO now” and “Say no to Putin”.
“I’m here because I’m extremely ashamed for my country of birth,” said Valery Bragar, a native Russian who has lived in Switzerland for 15 years and is now a Swiss citizen.
The protests come on the heels of other demonstrations around the world in the past days. In Latin America, protesters joined rallies on Friday in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Peru, chanting “Long live Ukraine”.
In Russia too, anti-war campaigners have defied warnings from the authorities to voice their anger. Police on Thursday detained more than 1,600 Russian protesters.
In Sydney, some speakers demanded the government expand sanctions against Moscow and ban Russian citizens from visiting Australia, while others called for NATO to step in.
“I want more economic sanctions on Russia, I want military help for Ukraine,” said Katarina, a protester who gave only her first name. “I want more action, more concrete action and less words. It’s too late for diplomacy right now.”
Several hundred Russian, Ukrainian and Japanese protesters gathered in the busy Shibuya shopping district in central Tokyo, many with their children and holding Ukrainian flags, chanting “stop the war” and “stop Putin” in Japanese and English.
“I just want to say, ‘Putin stop this, regain your sanity’,” said Hiroshi Sawada, a 58-year-old musician.
In India, some of the anger was directed towards NATO and the West.
“The kind of aggression we are witnessing in Ukraine has been forced by U.S. through NATO and also the Russian military forces who have entered Ukraine. Both are responsible for this situation,” student activist Neha said at a protest in New Delhi.
(Reporting by Reuters bureaus; Writing by Lidia Kelly and Alison Williams; Editing by William Mallard and Ros Russell)