After weeks of tension, Russian President Vladimir Putin decided yesterday, on February 24th, to declare war and invade Ukraine. World leaders reacted immediately, strongly condemning this military attack as a disaster for the Ukrainian democracy, which declared a state of emergency soon after Putin authorized military action. As France prepares for a presidential election in the coming weeks, the campaign is largely disrupted by this worrying international context, and the French political climate has changed radically.
President Macron responded to Russia’s attacks by affirming that “France stands in solidarity with Ukraine. It stands with Ukrainians and is working with its partners and allies to end the war.” Today, February 25, President Macron addressed a solemn France. European Union leaders have announced sanctions against Russia and these will concern “the highest leaders” of Russia, Emmanuel Macron said.
Beyond political declarations and sanctions, the emotions of the people of France remain extremely strong. According to the police prefecture, almost 3000 demonstrators gathered in Paris yesterday evening to protest the invasion of Ukraine and to denounce the Russian president, shouting “Putin is a terrorist, Putin is an assassin!” On the Place de la République, the emblematic place of demonstration in Paris, Ukrainian flags were floating and some protestors held bouquets of mimosas while chants of solidarity echoed in the cold Parisian air: “Solidarity with Ukraine,”“Sanctions for Russia, ” “Arms to Ukraine.”
“I felt helpless when I heard the news, and I couldn’t bear staying at home, scrolling down social media when the lives of millions are at stake. I had to be surrounded by people, I had to feel a sense of unity in that moment” said one protestor who stood at midday in front of the Russian Embassy in Paris. Another added, “I cannot believe what is happening. I’m no geopolitical expert, and I don’t fully understand the situation, but I can’t wrap my mind around the fact that we have a country, so close to us, being bombarded, with civilians under attack, fearing for their lives, for their freedom, for their home. It seems surreal.” And another echoed, “To me, Putin is an autocrat with an overinflated ego, who wants the world to be his and can’t help taking what doesn’t belong to him. It worries me a lot. I’m afraid the war will spread. It is absolutely insane to me that this is going on in 2022. We live in a crazy world, and it is causing me a lot of anxiety and sorrow.”
However, still another told me he could not get out of his house. “Being in the middle of a crowd terrifies me. I have been feeling overwhelmed with emotion since yesterday, heartbroken about what is going on and scared of what the future might hold. But I also feel guilt for carrying on with my life. I know posting on social media does not help that much, but maybe it raises awareness and helps people understand the situation. It has been my way of coping”.
Protests were also held in major French cities, such as Rennes, Strasbourg or Marseille, a city twinned with Odessa in Ukraine. New demonstrations against the war in Ukraine will be held everywhere in the world and across different cities in France tomorrow, Saturday the 26th of February.
On my end, I am in shock of what has been unfolding before our eyes. I am terrified about the situation, and helplessness is the word that best describe my state of mind. I am shaken by the collapse of freedoms, anxious about the future and what it means for peace and security on our continent and across the world. My heart is heavy and goes out to the Ukrainian people, as civilians often pay the highest price in war.
Protesting is sometimes hard to do, for a variety of personal and political reasons, but there are other practical ways in which we can help the people of Ukraine by supporting organizations that are providing relief in the area. See the accompanying box, below.
Cover Image by LAURENCE GEAI for LE MONDE
Camille Bourron lives in Paris and is a political science and social policy graduate, having studied at La Sorbonne and the LSE. She is passionate about politics, culture, art and travel.