Thousands in Prague demonstrate in support of Ukraine, demand end to violence
Thousands of people gathered on Prague’s Wenceslas Square on Sunday to protest against the invasion of Ukraine and demand an immediate end to the violence in the country. Speakers denounced Russia’s aggression in Ukraine as an attack not only on that country, but on the whole democratic world and the values it stands on.
Czechs, Ukrainians, Russians and other foreign nationals stood side by side on Wenceslas Square chanting “Freedom for Ukraine”, “Stop the War” and “Out with the dictator”.
The demonstration of some 60,000 people, called by the movement Million Moments for Democracy, was addressed by the Ukrainian ambassador to Prague, members of the Ukrainian minority and human rights activists.
The response to the invasion of Ukraine has been particularly strong among Czechs for whom it is reminiscent of the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia. The entire political scene is united in the need to help the country in any way possible.
The Czech government has been pushing for the strongest possible sanctions from the European Union, including Russia’s exclusion from the SWIFT payment system. It has also introduced its own series of unilateral sanctions against Russia and has said it is ready to take in any number of refugees from Ukraine.
Speaking after an emergency meeting of the Czech government on Sunday, Prime Minister Fiala said the democratic world must stand strong and united in the face of this aggression. He said the latest developments in Ukraine showed the importance of investing the required 2 percent of GDP into defense which the Czech Republic was committed to fulfilling by 2025. The Czech prime minister said isolating Russia would be costly, but Europe must be prepared the price for future European security.
The government on Sunday approved another delivery of weapons and military systems to Ukraine as well as hundreds of tons of fuel at the request of President Volodymyr Zelensky. The delivery, worth 400 million crowns was dispatched on Sunday afternoon. On Saturday the country sent Ukraine machine guns, submachine guns, sniper rifles, pistols and ammunition worth 188 million crowns, which have already been delivered.
In response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Czech Republic has stopped issuing visas to Russian citizens, except in humanitarian cases. The authorities will also review already issued residence visas for Russians living in the Czech Republic. Interior Minister Vit Rakusan said he would urge the other EU countries to implement a similar measure across the Schengen space.
Further, the Ministry of Finance will inspect Russian companies or companies with Russian owners in relation to the drawing of public funds in the Czech Republic.
The Czech government will also speed up the process of withdrawing from two post-Soviet banks - the International Bank for Economic Cooperation and the International Investment Bank - and will call on other EU members to do the same.
The cabinet on Friday also approved the potential deployment of up to 580 Czech troops to the North Atlantic Alliance's Rapid Reaction Force anywhere in NATO and has closed its airspace to Russian airlines.
It is not often that any issue unites the Czech political scene and the country’s citizens in this manner.
According to the results of a poll conducted by the STEM/MARK agency 97 percent of Czechs approve of the government’s decision to take in refugees and many have offered to accommodate them in their own homes. Charity agencies in the country have already collected over 100 million crowns in public donations in aid of Ukraine and many people are driving to the Slovak or Polish border with Ukraine to distribute humanitarian aid on the spot and help in any way that is needed.