In Balkan capitals, citizens and political leaders have shown support for the Ukrainian people one year after the start of Russia’s aggression.
Citizens in Balkan countries have shown their sympathy and support for the Ukrainian people on the first anniversary of Russia’s attack.
Dozens of citizens gathered in Pionirski Park in Serbia’s capital, Belgrade, walking to the city’s Republic Square in a “March of Solidarity and Peace – 365 days of indomitability”.
The organizers of the walk are the “Do Good” association and the Embassy of Ukraine in Serbia.
Marchers carried Ukrainian flags and banners that read: “Ukraine will win”, “Peace for Ukraine” and “Stop the war in Ukraine”.
Among those on the march were the ambassador of Ukraine, Volodymyr Tolkac, the head of the EU Delegation in Serbia, Emanuele Giaufret, diplomats from the embassies of the US, Germany and other countries, as well as representatives of Serbia’s opposition Green-Left coalition.
Before the protest, several dozen pro-Ukrainian activists tried to deliver a cake with a skull and red frosting, symbolizing blood, to the Russian embassy in Belgrade, but police did not allow them to do so.
In Kosovo’s capital, Pristina, President Vjosa Osmani spoke at a gathering of Ukrainian journalists who are staying in Kosovo on an in-country-residence program, where she said that Ukraine’s fight was “a war to protect the values of the democracy everywhere in the world”.
“Dear Ukrainians, keep staying strong, because a nation that loves freedom always comes out winner. You will always have Kosovo’s support,” Osmani said.
“Prishtina became our second home and offered us an opportunity to stay with our profession and tell the world the truth of the Ukraine war,” Ludmila Makei, a journalist who has found shelter in Kosovo since the start of Russian invasion, told a Prishtina Municipal Assembly meeting organized to mark the war’s anniversary.
To mark the anniversary of the Russian attack, Pristina’s main squares were decorated with giant Ukrainian flags.
Bulgaria’s capital, Sofia and the towns of Plovdiv, Varna, Veliko Tarnovo, Ruse, Burgas and Stara Zagora all staged rallies in support of Ukraine to mark the anniversary of the Russian invasion.
The country has seen several waves of protests since the beginning of the war in support of Ukraine at the start of the invasion, then in support of Bulgaria’s pro-EU government of Kiril Petkov when it was ousted in June last year – an act seen as jeopardizing Bulgaria’s pro-West perspectives, and then against President Rumen Radev’s interim cabinet last August, when the government mulled a return to trading with Russia’s Gazprom.
The plateau of the Monument to the Soviet Army in Sofia, a popular place for protest actions, was attacked on Thursday by a 61-year-old man with a hammer. He has been charged and the act was condemned by the Russian ambassador, Eleonora Mitrofanova. During the first days of the war in 2022, the same monument was anonymously painted in blood red.
In Varna, the local Ukrainian centre was anonymously decorated with a Russian flag, an act seen as a provocation ahead of the marches.
In Romania’s capital, Bucharest, the Ukrainian flag was raised over different government institutions, while on Friday evening the Romanian Foreign Ministry building will be illuminated in blue and yellow, the colours of the Ukrainian flag.
“We will continue to help Ukraine and the Ukrainian people as long as it is needed. It is Romania’s firm commitment. The war taught us another lesson, that of solidarity and unity. Together we showed that we are strong and oppose Russian aggression,” Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said.
In neighbouring Moldova, officials and ordinary citizens laid flowers at the Embassy of Ukraine in Chisinau.
The event began with the singing of the national anthems of Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova. Later, the participants held a minute’s silence in memory of the victims of the war.
“There is no greater pain than losing a loved one. There is no greater injustice than being invaded and killed in your own home, where you live peacefully and beautifully,” Moldova’s president, Maia Sandu, said.
In North Macedonia, a civic association of Ukrainians called Lesya Ukrainka organised a rally in support of Ukraine in the centre of the capital, Skopje. The rally concluded with a visit to the nearby monument dedicated to the Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko.
A local NGO, CIVIL-Center for Freedom, marked the anniversary with a conference dubbed “Ukraine – A Year of Heroism”.
North Macedonia Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani, whose country presides over the OSCE, in a speech on Friday delivered a message to Ukrainians, saying: “You are not alone”.
Citizens of Albania’s capital Tirana marched from “Free Ukraine street”, where the Ukrainian Embassy is located, to the Tirana Municipality building, where a Ukrainian flag was displayed.
“Ukraine is covered in blood but continues to fight,” the Ambasador of Ukraine, Volodymyr Shukrov, said and thanked Albania for its support.
In Podgorica, Montenegrin authorities stressed that the country will continue to support Ukraine, condemning the Russian invasion.
The government building and the main bridge in Podgorica were illuminated in Ukrainian colours on Thursday night, while a march in support of Ukraine was due on Friday in the old royal capital, Cetinje.
Ahead of the Russian invasion’s anniversary, Montenegrin government representatives and US and Ukraine ambassadors, Judy Rising Reinke and Oleh Herasymenko, on Thursday met Ukrainian refugees in the coastal town of Sutomore.
Turkey has condemned Russia’s war in Ukraine and offered military support to Kyiv including armed drones and armoured vehicles.
However, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey is the only member of NATO not to join Western sanctions, preferring to position itself as a mediator able to talk peace with both sides.
Turkey has been accused of being a trade platform between Russia and the West bypassing the sanctions and the trade relations have flourished between Moscow and Ankara despite of criticism from the EU and NATO.
Turkey has led several peace talks between Kyiv and Moscow and UN grain deal negotiations in addition to its strict policies on Turkish Straits, not allowing any warships to enter the Black Sea.
In Zagreb, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic visited the Embassy of Ukraine and together with Ambassador Vasilje Kirilic lit up candles in memory of the victims of the aggression.
Events in support of Ukraine were held across Central Europe. In Poland, rallies were being held in cities and towns across the country. And in Czechia, the charity People In Need was holding a range of events like video mapping that commemorate Ukrainians’ suffering in the past 12 months, while several Czech theatres were organizing special evenings featuring Ukrainian guests and screening Ukrainian films.
(c) 2023, Balkan Insight