With the European Union advancing with unprecedented sanctions against Russia, thousands of people in Portugal – nationals, residents and many ‘in between’ – took to the streets of cities from north to south to clamour for peace, aid and support to save Ukraine.
The marvel of these demos (which have also been going on in many other countries) is that they brought together so many nationalities, including Russians who are appalled at what is happening.
Explains tabloid Correio da Manhã “Russian citizens living in Portugal want to show this is not a war in their name”.
One Russian in the crowd in Lisbon’s demo, which took place outside the Russian embassy, told the paper: “I have no words. I am so ashamed, and I condemn the actions of Putin”.
Today (Monday) is another ‘red letter day’, in as much as delegations from both sides of this conflict will be meeting close to the border with Belarus, ostensibly to negotiate potential terms for a de-escalation.
The truth however is that the Ukraine side doubts very much the talks will lead anywhere.
Ukraine is not prepared to cede a centimetre of its territory, and it is fully aware Putin has hit-squads out with orders to assassinate its president, Volodymyr Zelensky, whose determination and Daniel-versus-Goliath bravery has inspired the nation, if not the entire free world.
Last night in Brussels, European Commission president Ursula Von der Leyen said the Ukraine “belongs in the EU”.
“They are one of us and we want them in”, she said in another unprecedented rebuke of Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
“We have a process with Ukraine that is, for example, integrating the Ukrainian market into the single market,” the EC leader told Euronews, after announcing plans for the Union to provide around €500 million in arms and other aid to the Ukrainian military as it battles Russia’s invasion. This is the first time in its history that Europe has purchased arms for active conflict.
Talking in the wider context, Ms Von der Leyen said: “We have very close cooperation on the energy grid, for example. So many topics where we work very closely together and indeed over time, they (Ukraine) belong to us”.
As Euronews remarked: “Von der Leyen’s remarks are likely to stir anger in Moscow, where Putin has used what he claims is a historical oneness between the Russian and Ukrainian peoples as justification for his unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, as well as complaints about Kyiv’s growing ties to the West”.
But as Portugal’s prime minister António Costa has said – putting this struggle into total perspective – this is a fight for democracy: there is no way Europe could act differently without giving the message that democracy is expendable, and the West will simply roll over whenever pushed by a dictator.
In Albufeira, many Ukrainians took to the streets over the weekend to support the calls for more help to their embattled homeland.
Said one who lives and works in the holiday town: “I am from a city close to the Russian border. It is being constantly bombarded. I have most of my family there. In the garage my father is making Molotov cocktails to defend the city. Everyone there is united”.
Here too, the wave of solidarity shows no sign of stopping. Portugal has already declared itself ready to welcome fleeing Ukrainians. The government is preparing work opportunities, shelter and as much as it can at such short notice.
Coming through today, for example, is news that the country’s footwear industry is available to offer jobs to Ukrainian refugees.
Meantime, the PSP special forces are expecting to be called up “at any moment, to fly to Ukraine on a mission to protect the embassy and other Portuguese interests”, say reports.
Ambassador António Vasco Machado and his family have already left Ukraine, but Ukrainian embassy staff remain to continue working in Portugal’s interests.
Correio da Manhã says there are “still Portuguese economic interests in Kiev, and in other parts of the country, which could be in danger due to the war”.
The departure of the PSP’s special force (Grupo de Operações Especiais) “will depend on political orders. When it happens, the trip will be made in an Air Force plane, which would land in Romania, leaving the rest of the journey to be made over land”.
Monday marks the fifth day of this conflict, with absolutely no-one able to predict which way it will go.
President Putin has already ‘threatened’ the nuclear option (putting his nuclear forces on ‘maximum alert’); he has threatened other neighbouring countries like Finland and Sweden – but, as of this point, neither country appears to have taken much notice: Finland particularly has given Estonia permission to send Ukraine ‘howitzers’ which it (Finland) will be purchasing; Sweden has has said it will be sending anti-tank launchers, field rations, helmets and body armor to Ukraine. All this is unprecedented from countries that have remained out of NATO in order not to incur Russia’s wrath.