As NATO, G-7 and European Union leaders met behind closed doors Thursday in Brussels to discuss their response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, protesters gathered outside demanding that the West take tougher action against Moscow.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had called for a day of protests in support of his country, exactly one month after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
Outside the European Union headquarters, where EU leaders were joined by U.S. President Joe Biden for talks Thursday afternoon, several hundred protesters waved Ukrainian flags and placards.
Hanna Hopko, a former Ukrainian lawmaker and head of the country’s International Relations Commission, helped organize the protest.
“We have key demands: first, to provide maximum military assistance to Ukraine, because Ukrainian armed forces are winning this war. But we need the resupply of lethal weapons. … Second, we need tougher sanctions, including an embargo on oil and gas,” Hopko said.
“We expect that NATO, the EU and the global leadership, G-7 — they finally make a decision, and we will see determination to help Ukraine to win. We ask a question: Does morality end at the NATO borders? Does humanity end at the NATO borders?” she added.
The United Nations said Thursday that more than 1,000 civilians have been killed in Ukraine since the invasion began, but cautioned the figure could severely underestimate the true number of people killed.
Many have died as a result of Russian missiles and airstrikes, prompting calls for NATO to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine, which the Western alliance has rejected.
Among the protesters in Brussels was Zlata Podovolenkova, who fled her home in Hostomel outside Kyiv, which is now a front line between Ukrainian and Russian forces trying to take the capital. She still has family members stuck in the middle of the war zone.
“We are asking for NATO to close the sky, to provide us with weapons that will be able to help Ukraine to win this war,” Podovolenkova said. “Because we are sure that we’re going to win, but it’s not only a matter of time, it’s a matter of how many people will die, how many civilians will die in this terrible war.”
Their demands were left largely unsatisfied. NATO did agree to boost weapon supplies, increase humanitarian aid and tighten sanctions, but will not impose a no-fly zone or supply fighter jets, arguing either action could spark direct conflict between Russia and NATO.
“Europe could do much more to help Ukraine. NATO can do much more to help Ukrainians,” said Andrea Castagna, an Italian national who joined the protest in Brussels. “We are, I think, in a situation which is very comparable with 1939, when people in Europe had to decide that Hitler was Hitler.
“And now we are in a time when we have to decide that Vladimir Putin is no longer the leader of a nation. He is an imperialistic dictator that will destroy everything that we built after the Second World War,” Castagna said.
The United States and its NATO partners have approved billions of dollars in military and humanitarian assistance for Ukraine and imposed ever-stronger sanctions against Moscow.
VOA’s Myroslava Gongadze contributed to this report.