(Megan Specia’s article appeared in The New York Times, 2/24; Photo: back home, and expressed feelings of hopelessness. Ukrainians and supporters of Ukraine outside Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office in London on Thursday protesting Russia’s invasion.Credit…Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images.)
Across Europe, Ukrainian expatriates looked on in horror at the scenes of destruction
LONDON — Ukrainians living across Europe watched in horror and disbelief from afar on Thursday as Russia’s invasion of their home country began with shelling and rocket attacks in several cities.
Many shared feelings of helplessness as they received frantic calls from loved ones back home describing attacks nearby, instructing them what to do if they were killed in the conflict, or sending requests to empty bank accounts.
At protests in London on Thursday, some wept. Some fingered prayer beads. And many said they were determined to raise their voices and demand greater action by the world to end Russian aggression.
Yulia Tomashckuk, 29, wore sunglasses to shield her tears as she clutched a small Ukrainian flag. A village that neighbors her hometown in western Ukraine had been attacked, she said, news that her mother relayed to her by phone before dawn Thursday.
“I just felt I was useless sitting at home watching the news — here at least I can show there are people who support Ukraine, who are against war and who want Putin to be shown his place,” she said. “He needs to be stopped now.”
The Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, was the focus of much of the outrage.
Chants of “Putin, hands off Ukraine” and “U.K. support Ukraine” echoed from the crowd of hundreds that gathered outside Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office at 10 Downing Street on Thursday.
Even before Russian strikes on Ukraine began, Britain and the European Union earlier this week announced targeted sanctions against Moscow. On Thursday, Mr. Johnson announced new actions from Britain and its allies that included asset freezes on major banks and individuals, a ban on the Russian airline Aeroflot, and a ban on many technology exports to Russia.
Those who gathered near his office waved Ukrainian flags and demanded more stringent sanctions and broader actions from the West in response to Russian military action.
“I’m shocked, probably like everyone, because my family is still in Ukraine,” said Mariya Tymchyshyn, 30, who took time off work to join the protests. “We were panicked as well: We don’t know what to do. No one can be ready for this.”
Ms. Tymchyshyn’s family lives in the western part of Ukraine, away from the most fierce attacks, but she was worried for her grandparents, who as survivors of World War II have already lived through intense fighting in Ukraine.
“It’s probably the hardest part for us,” she said. “I was trying to calm down my grandmother, but she remembers being a child at that time and a bomb killed her mother. I want peace for all of us.”
Inna Tereshchuk, 26, who has lived in Britain for eight years, said her family members “are all scared for their lives.”
She is trying to remain strong for them.
“We don’t know how long they will be alive, what Putin has on his mind,” she said. “The whole world knows about it, and no one is doing anything.”
She was joined at the protest by her friend Alina Clarke, 25, whose family lives near Kyiv. Ms. Clarke spoke with her father, who vowed to stand his ground, telling her that he was not going anywhere and planned “to stay until the end.”
“I hope that in every city and town all over the world Ukrainians are going to come out and show that we are not afraid of Putin, and we want him to take his hands off our country,” Ms. Clarke said. “Ukraine has every right to exist.”
A small group also gathered at the Russian Embassy in northwest London, where a number of protests have been held in recent days, but by Thursday morning they had taken on a more somber tone. Among the handful who stood outside the embassy were a number of Russians denouncing their government’s actions.
Tatiana Rudayak, 46, a Russian-British woman who held a blue sign with the words “Stop the War” painted on in bright yellow paint, was keen to have her voice heard.
“I am here because my country has started a war, and I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t protest that,” she said. “I was fluctuating between despair and fury and this is the only thing I can do.”
Denis Zihiltsov, 34, who said he had not slept the night before, came to the embassy holding a sign in Russian that read, “I’m Russian and I demand you stop killing our brothers. Glory to Ukraine.”
“Its heartbreaking,” he said. “It’s killing people for nothing.”
The Belarus Free Theatre, one of Europe’s most acclaimed theater troupes, was rehearsing a play in an east London studio on Thursday, but all of its members were continually checking their phones for updates on the conflict.
Several of its members are Ukrainian and everyone knew someone trapped in the country.
Marichka Marczyk, at the rehearsals in London, said in a telephone interview that she’d just had a text exchange with her brother in Kyiv about what to do if he was killed in the conflict. “My will is simple,” he replied. “Burn my body/scatter the ashes,” adding: “All my riches to my kid.” Those riches include his honey bees.
Similar scenes played out in cities across Europe, where Ukrainian expatriates were grappling with the troubling news from their homeland. In Berlin’s Pariser Platz, hundreds of somber protesters wrapped themselves in Ukrainian flags.