Hundreds of Ukrainians gathered outside the Russian embassy in Canberra on Sunday in protest against the Putin government’s occupation of the Crimean Peninsula and other eastern regions of Ukraine.
Coinciding with the Ukrainian presidential elections, the demonstration was just one of many happening worldwide.
About 500 people travelled from Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Brisbane to demonstrate, with Ukrainian citizens taking the opportunity to cast their vote at the Ukrainian embassy before staging a peaceful protest outside Russia’s embassy in Griffith.
One of the protesters, who asked not to be named, has lived in Sydney for five years but remains a Ukrainian citizen and was keen to vote in the presidential elections.
“I’m from Crimea, which is being occupied by Russia, and all my family is still there – my parents and my sisters – and I’m very worried because [the Russians] do whatever they want and people don’t have any rights in Crimea,” the woman said.
“I still believe we should be with Ukraine and I was here today to support Ukrainians. We are united – we want Ukraine to overcome this very bad situation.”
The woman is an indigenous Crimean Tatar, a cultural group that has had a poor history with Russia, having been deported from the homeland by Joseph Stalin in 1944 and only allowed back in 1987.
“We don’t accept Russia because we have so much negativity connected with the communist party and we don’t like the Putin regime – it’s very oppressive and it’s not like Ukrainians. Ukrainians are very tolerant. It’s very multicultural in Ukraine and people feel very Europeanised. We want to be with Europe, we want to be with Ukraine.”
Igor Onysko from Kiev was also in the Canberra crowd. He has been living in Melbourne for three months but was part of the peaceful demonstrations in Kiev earlier in the year that ousted former pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, a move that sparked Russia to annex Crimea in the guise of protecting Russians living in the region.
“Every Ukrainian nowadays is politically active – you cannot look at what’s going on and not be involved in this,” Mr Onysko said. “We are against the situation of Russia – and [Vladimir] Putin specifically – trying to annex some parts of Ukraine.
"We don’t want any country to invade ... we want to manage our country on our own. We don’t need any advice from the Russian President – we want him to get out of Ukrainian land.”
The demonstration was organised by Stefan Romaniw, who is chairman of the Australian Federation of Ukrainian Organisations and secretary of the Ukrainian World Congress, which represents about 20 million international Ukrainians.
Mr Romaniw said the situation is about more than just Crimea and the Ukraine. “Ukraine could only be the start of something which could be far worse in the future – that could be another war,” he said.
“There are no rules when it comes to Putin – he has his own rules and if you don’t stop him now, who knows how far this will go.
“The further the footprint gets into Ukraine, the closer it gets to the Baltic states, the closer it gets to Poland, the closer it gets to Europe, and if that were to happen, obviously there would be international military intervention.”