By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Thousands of Ukrainians in a major eastern city near the border with Russia have taken to the streets to express national solidarity and a willingness to defend their homeland in the event of an invasion.
As many as 5,000 people took part in the February 5 demonstration in Kharkiv, an industrial city of 1.4 million that is home to tank, aircraft, and tractor factories.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has identified Kharkiv, which lies just 40 kilometers from the Russian border, as a possible target of an attack.
“Some say that we will give up Kharkiv. We are part of Ukraine, we were born here, our children live here. We won’t run away. We will build Europe here,” Maryana Vorona, a volunteer who participated in the march, told RFE/RL.
Participants carried a 100-meter-long blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flag through the streets as they shouted “Glory to Ukraine, glory to the heroes,” a reference to soldiers who have died defending the country from Kremlin-backed separatists in two provinces in eastern Ukraine.
The eight-year war, which still simmers to this day in parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, has killed more than 13,200 people.
Now Russia has amassed more than 100,000 combat troops near Ukraine, raising concerns it could launch another, more devastating invasion.
Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city, is considered more vulnerable to such an attack because of its close proximity to the border.
The march was organized by local political and nongovernmental organizations.
The local city council sought to block the protest amid concern over the spread of COVID-19 and provocations. However, a local court rejected the city council’s request.
There were no reports of arrests or disturbances.