With a front-row seat, Poles rally in support of Ukraine

With a front-row seat, Poles rally in support of Ukraine

WARSAW | A sea of protesters gathered before the Russian Embassy in Warsaw over the weekend as anti-war demonstrations broke out in cities around the world.

The protests here have an extra edge because Poles have a front-row seat for the global drama over Russia‘s military invasion of neighboring Ukraine. In addition to a long and tortured bilateral history with Russia, Poland has taken in the bulk of what U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said Sunday were some 368,000 people who had crossed the Ukrainian border into neighboring countries to flee the fighting.

Anti-Russian demonstrations were held in Germany, where an estimated 100,000 people marched in the streets of Berlin, the U.S., Canada, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Italy, Japan, Taiwan, Georgia and other countries.

Despite a fierce crackdown by President Vladimir Putin‘s security forces, a database compiled by the Russian nonprofit OVD-Info said police detained nearly 2,100 participants in anti-war protests in Moscow, St. Petersburg and dozens of other cities again Sunday. More than 3,000 people already had been arrested after police and security forces moved in on demonstrations since Wednesday, when Russian forces crossed into Ukraine.

In Warsaw, the street-facing windows of the Russian Embassy were noticeably darkened as a crowd outside shouted “Ukraine without Putin” and “Ukraine is Europe” as they hoisted Polish and Ukrainian flags.

The outcry in the Polish capital has become a nightly condemnation of Russia‘s aggression and an appeal to world leaders to do more to put an end to the war.

“As a citizen of Poland and as a citizen of the European Union, I demand action from politicians and diplomats,” said Bartlomiej Jankowski, 26, a Warsaw resident who attended Saturday’s protest. “Not speeches. Not tweets. Not just talking.

“If we leave Ukraine alone, everyone is going to lose,” Mr. Jankowski said. “All of Europe. We are all going to lose this war together.”

U.S. and world leaders have stepped up financial and economic sanctions on Russia since the invasion began, and organizers of sports events including racing and soccer have either banned Russian contestants or canceled Russian events. Still, some were skeptical that those moves would force Mr. Putin to back down.

One sign waved at Saturday’s protest in Warsaw read: “Sanctions didn’t work with Hitler either.”

Other signs called for Ukraine‘s admission into NATO, a key appeal voiced by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and one that Western leaders have been reluctant to support.

“I have no doubt that all people throughout Europe share the same voice in wanting to stop the war,” said one protester who wished to remain anonymous. “I cannot tell the same from our leaders.”

Nearly 20,000 protesters took to the streets in Switzerland’s capital, where the Ukrainian flag flew over the city council. In a country that has long prized its neutral status, hundreds demonstrated in front of the United Nations headquarters in Geneva.

Russia‘s ‘bloody monster’

In Russia, Sunday’s protests appeared smaller than those of the first days of the war but still presented a remarkable public challenge to Mr. Putin‘s autocratic rule.

“I have two sons, and I don’t want to give them to that bloody monster. War is a tragedy for all of us,” 48-year-old Dmitry Maltsev, who joined the rally in St. Petersburg, told The Associated Press.

In St. Petersburg, where several hundred gathered in the city center, AP reported that police in full riot gear were grabbing one protester after another and dragging some into police vans, even though the demonstration was peaceful. Footage from Moscow showed police throwing several female protesters onto the ground before dragging them away.

The Ukrainian government on Sunday took another step to encourage resistance within Russia. It launched a Russian-language website that it said Russian families could use to find soldiers who had been killed or taken prisoner in the fighting. The website displays identification documents of those killed and photos of corpses that Kyiv says are Russian soldiers killed in the invasion.

“I know that many Russians are worried about how and where their children, sons [and] husbands are and what is happening to them — so we decided to put this online so that each of you could search for your loved one who Putin sent to fight in Ukraine,” Viktor Andrusiv, an official in the Ukrainian Interior Ministry, says in a video on the website.

“If your relatives or friends are in Ukraine and participate in the war against our people — here you can get information about their fate,” the website says on its homepage.

The name of the Ukrainian website, 200rf.com, is a bit of military psychological warfare: It’s a play on the grim Soviet-era euphemism “Cargo-200,” referring to the body bags of soldiers killed in Russia‘s disastrous decade-long military campaign in Afghanistan.

Warsaw‘s Mr. Jankowski said the war is especially personal for Poles.

“It’s terrifying,” he said. “It’s not something abstract. It’s happening right here just beyond the border.”

He said he, like so many others here, has friends in Ukraine whom he speaks with daily.

“When I woke up on Thursday, the invasion happened and it was a different reality.”

Yevhenii Dacenko, a Ukrainian immigrant living in Warsaw, said the protests show an important symbol of unity between the two countries.

“Everybody stands together,” Mr. Dacenko said. “We will never surrender.”

• David R. Sands contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.