Several dozen demonstrators gathered outside the Russian consulate in a town near Nice (Alpes-Maritimes) this morning (February 25) in support of Ukraine, following Russia’s invasion of the country.
The protestors, many of whom carried Ukrainian flags or anti-war placards, chanted slogans such as “occupants go home”, “Putin is a killer”, “cut Russia off from Swift” and “we will win”.
The demonstration in Villefranche-sur-Mer near Nice was peaceful but it was clear that emotions were running high among those in attendance. People spoke of their anger, fear, confusion and helplessness at the situation.
We spoke to three of those present, who shared their stories on how the war was affecting them and their families.
Petro Akzhygitov, 35
Petro was in the process of spraying slogans on cardboard sheets when we approached him. He told us he had been in France for three weeks after the company he works for, Google, told him to get out of Ukraine.
“I came here with my girlfriend. I have previously lived in France for a few years, before I went to the US. I had been in Ukraine during the pandemic.
“I have a visa for the US, but my girlfriend doesn’t, so we came here to France. We are thinking we may apply for refugee status for her.
“I am at the demonstration today because I want to support people in Ukraine who are under attack.
“I feel anger, a lot of anger. Seeing my friends in bomb shelters, posting pictures of tanks going past. It’s hard.
“I took two days off because I can’t concentrate. I feel physically safe here in France, but not safe mentally.
“I am from Donetsk originally (in eastern Ukraine).
“My mum is still there but she supports the Russian troops. We haven’t spoken since Russia invaded because I know what she’ll say. She’ll give me the Russian propaganda, about Ukraine committing genocide and being full of Nazis. It’s painful for me.
“I know that we can call each other, but we’ll only do it in case of emergencies.
“I don’t plan to return to Ukraine at the moment. We are planning our strategy of where to stay, and what to do next.
“All EU countries, the UK, the US, they are not doing enough. We are struggling. We are just one country fighting against Putin, and against Belarus.
“We need everyone in Russia to feel the sanctions, from banking or from air travel.
“We went to a shop yesterday to buy materials to make flags because we realised we didn’t have any.
“So we bought 10 metres of blue material and 10 metres of yellow material, but then we realised we didn’t know how to put them together to make flags.
“Luckily there were two girls outside the shop who had been intending to buy material to do the same thing, so we gave them what we bought and they used it to sew 10 Ukrainian flags.
“We need to show people in France that we are here, we’re under attack. We need to show them that the war is here, and not somewhere else.
“You can support the Ukrainian cause at supportukraine.co.”
Redaa, 40, Olena, 33
Redaa is French and his wife Olena is Ukrainian. They live in Antibes but Olena still has family in Ukraine. They said the last time they were in the country was back in June 2021.
“I’m here today to support my wife Olena, who is Ukrainian, and all the people in Ukraine, a country that I discovered a few years ago and love,” Redaa said.
“I just can’t understand what is happening there. It reminds me of Poland in 1939.
“I want to support my Ukrainian friends and show that we will not be silent.
“France and the rest of Europe is not doing enough. Not at all. Speeches are not enough.
“I’m not optimistic that they will do any more because they do not have enough power.
“Anyway, tomorrow is too late. Today, it is already too late.
Olena told us that she felt really bad and was worried for her family in Ukraine.
“I am helpless. I don’t even feel safe here, in France. Today it is Ukraine, tomorrow it could be any country.
“Here it is like an oasis, and we think it could never happen. That was the same [feeling we had] before yesterday [in Ukraine], and now it is like a living nightmare.”
For independent news in English about the Ukraine situation, see the Kyiv Independent.