Thousands have taken to the streets of Ukraine‘s second-largest city carrying banners reading “Kharkiv is Ukraine” and “stop Russian aggression“, as the country braces for a possible military offensive from Russia.
Weeks of diplomacy between the West and Moscow have produced no breakthrough after Russia massed tens of thousands of troops near Ukraine’s borders.
Moscow denies it plans to attack Ukraine but has demanded security guarantees, including a block on Ukraine joining the NATO alliance.
Kharkiv, an eastern industrial city that lies 42km (26 miles) from the Russian border, was identified by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as a possible Russian target for “occupation” if the situation escalates, though his spokesman later said he was speaking hypothetically.
On Saturday, demonstrators in Kharkiv marched between the city’s two main squares in sub-zero temperatures. They sang the national anthem and waved Ukrainian flags, or held up flags of allies who have supported Kyiv, including the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union.
“The people came into the streets to demonstrate that Kharkiv is a Ukrainian city and we will not surrender it,” Kharkiv resident Nina Kvitko told the Reuters news agency.
A Ukrainian flag wrapped around her shoulders, pensioner Iryna Gayeva had a simple message as she demonstrated.
“We do not want Russia,” she told the AFP news agency. “I was born in Crimea. That’s enough, they’ve already taken a homeland from me. I grew up here, I live here, my parents are from Russia but I don’t want to see any occupiers,” she said.
“This is my home, these are my rules.”