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A large demonstration took place in Brussels on March 24, with protesters gathering to demand tougher sanctions against Russia on the occasion of U.S President Joe Biden’s visit to Brussels for a summit on Ukraine.
The event, organized by Ukrainian-led advocacy group Promote Ukraine, took place in front of the Council of the European Union, where Joe Biden was concluding a summit with European leaders.
The protesters, including the sizable Belgian-Ukrainian community and recently arrived refugees, shouted their demands towards the European institutions. Volunteer organizers called on Western leaders to provide Ukraine with air defenses, reduce Europe’s reliance on Russian oil and gas, and supply Ukraine with more weapons.
After the refusal of the NATO alliance to create a no-fly zone over Ukrainian airspace, the organizers are now demanding that Ukraine’s Western allies supply anti-air defenses and fighter jets.
“NATO, EU, it is enough to give promises, it is time to deliver help now!” the organizers wrote on Facebook.
Olena Kuzhym, a volunteer organizer for the event, stated that the demonstration had set clear demands for Biden and other leaders.
“First, to close or shelter the sky, if not by the intervention of NATO, then by providing layered air defenses,” Kuzhym said. “Also, protection from nuclear weapons, anti-biological and chemical protection weapons.”
As the crowd gathered to listen to activists, chants increasingly called for the European Union to cut off imports of Russian gas and oil. Kuzhym said that this was an important part of Promote Ukraine’s demands.
“And a second big part is economic sanctions…we have to act as fast as possible,” she said.
The European Union still imports up to 40% of its natural gas from Russia. Banners at the protests decried that Russian gas money was being used to subsidize Russia’s war against Ukraine.
“We demand that the European Union completely cuts economic ties with the Russian Federation,” the organizers wrote on Facebook. “Every euro that goes into the Kremlin’s pocket is used to kill Ukrainian women, men and children!”
As part of the protest, nearly 1,000 protestors in attendance lay on the ground to represent the 997 officially confirmed civilian casualties of the war so far. The flashmob lay silent on the ground to commiserate the deaths of innocent Ukrainian citizens.
Kuzhym states that the protests in Brussels were important, not only because they were seen by leading lawmakers in Europe, but because they sent a clear sign of solidarity to Ukrainians across the world.
“These protests are definitely not only for the politicians, not only for local media, they are also for those in Ukraine, so they can see that Ukrainians and ordinary people are still protesting and haven’t forgotten about the war.”
Promote Ukraine has planned a week of protest action to attract attention to the Ukrainian cause.
On March 25, the NGO will organize a demonstration on Brussel’s iconic Place du Luxembourg, replicating an earlier protest in Lviv. Empty baby strollers will be left symbolically on the square to represent the 115 children killed and 148 injured by Russian forces so far.
Promote Ukraine is advocating for further sanctions in harmony with the actions of European institutions.
On March 16, the European Parliament inaugurated a new Ukrainian Civil Society Hub, a space donated to Promote Ukraine to host press events and welcome members of the European Parliament.