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UKRAINE

IN PICTURES: Thousands march in Switzerland against Ukraine war

Thousands of people braved a surprise spring snowstorm in the Swiss capital Bern on Saturday to demand an end to Russia's devastating war in Ukraine.

A man waves a Ukrainian flag in front of the Swiss House of Parliament
A man waves a Ukrainian flag in front of the Swiss House of Parliament during a national demonstration for peace and against the war in Ukraine on April 2, 2022. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

In a sea of blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag, with a rainbow-coloured sprinkling of PEACE banners, around 10,000 demonstrators marched through the city, according to organisers.

“We are all Ukrainian civilians,” read one banner, held by a woman bundled up in a winter coat and wool hat marching towards the Federal Palace, which houses the Swiss government and Parliament.

A woman holds a placard during a national demonstration in Bern against the war in Ukraine.

A woman holds a placard during a national demonstration in Bern against the war in Ukraine. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

“I am Russian, I am against war. Putin is Murderer [sic],” one cardboard sign read, while another stated: “I’m Russian, I stand with Ukraine.”

People in Bern hold placards as they take part in a national demonstration for peace and against the war in Ukraine.

People hold placards as they take part in a national demonstration for peace and against the war in Ukraine. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

Benoit Gaillard, a representative of the USS union which co-organised the march, told AFP that the fact that “10,000 people braved the cold” showed that “this war has left no one indifferent”.

Just over five weeks into the invasion, thousands have been killed and millions displaced as parts of Ukraine have been reduced to rubble.

“We need everyone to be in solidarity with us,” said Hanna Perekhoda, a Ukrainian student at Lausanne university and member of the Swiss-Ukraine support committee.

“Ukraine is protecting Europe, protecting democracy and the world against the authoritarian dictatorship of Vladimir Putin,” she told AFP.

Tighten sanctions
The demonstration was aimed at pushing Switzerland to actively engage in efforts to secure a ceasefire and a full withdrawal of Russian forces, organisers said.

The demonstrators were also demanding more support for Ukrainian refugees, and for further sanctions on Russia, including reducing dependence on Russian oil and gas.

“Peace now, No gas, No war,” one large banner read, while a woman held up a sign with a picture of Putin with a red handprint across his face demanding “Stop trade with terrorist [sic]”.

A woman holds a placard representing Russian president Vladimir Putin at a demonstration in Bern

A woman holds a placard representing Russian president Vladimir Putin. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

Switzerland is not in the EU and has a long-standing tradition of neutrality on matters of war. It has nevertheless been aligning itself with the waves of EU sanctions imposed following Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine.

Switzerland said last month it had frozen the equivalent of 5.75 billion Swiss francs ($6.2 billion) in Russian assets since the invasion began.

But Kyiv has been pressing Switzerland, a favoured destination for wealthy Russians and their assets, to do more.

Participants hold placards against war in Ukraine in front of the Swiss House of Parliament

Participants hold placards in front of the Swiss House of Parliament during the national demonstration in Bern. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

“Russian oligarchs have their money here in Switzerland, in Swiss banks, so Switzerland is a key place to stop this war,” Perekhoda said.

“The Swiss government must take this responsibility and freeze all the assets of Russian oligarchs who finance this bloody war.”

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POLITICS

Ukraine and allies lay foundations for reconstruction at Swiss conference

Allies of Ukraine meeting in Switzerland were due Tuesday to adopt a declaration spelling out the principles and priorities of rebuilding the war-shattered country, estimated to cost at least $750 billion.

Ukraine and allies lay foundations for reconstruction at Swiss conference

Leaders from dozens of countries, international organisations and businesses have been meeting in the southern Swiss city of Lugano under tight security since Monday, discussing the best path forward for reconstruction, even as Russia’s war continues to rage in Ukraine.

‘A beautiful country’: How Ukrainian refugees see Switzerland

Speaking on the first day of the Ukraine Recovery Conference, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and a long line of government ministers described the massive destruction caused by Russia’s February 24 invasion.

“Reconstruction of Ukraine is not a local task of a single nation,” Zelensky said via video message. “It is a common task of the whole democratic world,” he said.

Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said the recovery “is already estimated at $750 billion”. “The key source of recovery should be the confiscated assets of Russia and Russian oligarchs,” he said.

“The Russian authorities unleashed this bloody war. They caused this massive destruction, and they should be held accountable for it”.

READ MORE: Switzerland extends sanctions against Russia over Ukraine invasion

The conference, which had been planned before the invasion, had originally been slated to discuss reforms in Ukraine before being repurposed to focus on recovery.

Shmyhal laid out the government’s phased reconstruction plan, focused first on the immediate needs of those affected by the war, followed by the financing of thousands of longer-term reconstruction projects aimed at making Ukraine European, green and digital.

Those priorities are expected to be reflected in a final Lugano Declaration setting out the general principles defining a framework for rebuilding Ukraine, which should be adopted when the conference wraps up around midday Tuesday.

As billions of dollars in aid flow into Ukraine, lingering concerns about widespread corruption in the country mean far-reaching reforms will also be seen as a condition for any recovery plan decided.

The former Soviet state has long been ranked among the world’s most corrupt countries by Transparency International.

In Europe, only Russia and Azerbaijan ranked worse.

The Ukrainians have proposed that allied countries “adopt” specific regions of Ukraine, and lead the recovery there to render it more efficient. Britain has proposed taking on the Kyiv region, while a diplomatic source said France would concentrate on the heavily-hit Chernihiv region.

Total Resistance: The Swiss Cold War manual inspiring Ukraine’s fight against Russia

In all, around 1,000 people are attending the conference, including European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who let out an enthusiastic “Slava Ukraini” (glory to Ukraine) after insisting on the importance of rebuilding a Ukraine better than before the war.

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