February 27, 2023
SEOUL – A large crowd turned out at a series of vigils and rallies held outside the Russian Embassy in Seoul on Friday and Saturday to show support for Ukraine, one year since Russia’s invasion of the country.
Chants denouncing Russia — “Withdraw Russian troops from Ukraine! If Russia stops fighting, there is no war!” — rung around the square near the embassy, as Ukraine supporters and anti-war demonstrators gathered.
One of them was Andrei Litvinov, a Ukrainian teacher at a school in South Jeolla Province’s Gwangju for children of Koryoin or ethnic Koreans in post-Soviet countries.
“I remember when Russia invaded Ukraine and the war broke out a year ago, I was completely depressed. I was just watching the news for days, not speaking or eating,” he told The Korea Herald.
“Then I came to my senses and began doing what I could do. I went to forums, gave speeches and made donations. I went to Poland as a volunteer with a Korean team to help the war refugees there.”
He said at his school there were students who came here to flee the war.
“My students tell me they saw tanks and dead bodies. At their age, they shouldn’t even be seeing things like that in a movie. But this was the reality they had to live through.”
Litvinov said his brother is a soldier in the Ukrainian military, and that his 67-year-old father is now receiving treatment in the Czech Republic after he was injured in a missile attack at his family’s hometown of Zaporizhzhia.
From the stories he was hearing from his friends and relatives, he was “convinced” that Ukraine was going to win the war and that the end was drawing near.
“Our soldiers are being trained in the UK and in Spain, and we are being supplied Leopard tanks. Biden was recently in Kyiv and he said that the US would support us as long as it takes. So all of these things have been very reassuring.”
He said he feels South Korea has been “cautious” in its support of Ukraine.
“There was a United Nations vote on Thursday condemning Russia, and South Korea voted to stand on the side of Ukraine, so we are very thankful,” he said. “At the same time in sending arms supplies to Ukraine, for example, compared to other countries, I feel that South Korea has been a bit hesitant maybe.”
South Korean leaders could “afford to be more brave,” he said.
“I wish the politicians in South Korea could be more brave. If they are still intimidated by Russia, they are overestimating Russia,” he said. “South Korea is not a weak country at all. Look at us now standing in front of the Russian Embassy. They can’t say or do anything to us.”
He said he believed being on the side of Ukraine was “being on the right side of history.”
“If there is a message I’d really like to get across South Korean leaders, it is that Ukraine’s defeat is also South Korea’s defeat. Because this war is more than just about Ukraine,” he said.
“I say this as a father of five children myself. What kind of a world would we be leaving behind for our children if we allow Russia’s behaviors to be tolerated?”
He said that this war was about “showing one country not respecting the principles of the international law that there will be consequences.”
“South Korea also has some hostile neighbors. My sons are South Korean too, and one day they will serve in the South Korean military. What if North Korea starts doing what Russia’s doing in Ukraine? This is why Russia cannot win.”
Among dozens who were present at the evening vigil, a Russian woman in her 30s said she decided to come to “make a statement” that she is against the war.
“I’m a psychologist. I have lots of psychologist colleagues in Ukraine who are working with Ukrainian soldiers and civilians and helping them cope with what’s going on,” she said, identifying herself only by her first name, Polina.
“As a Russian, I think protesting together with people who also care is very important. I’m here as a tourist, but I wanted to show I’m with them.”
A 21-year-old Ukrainian student, who said he has been studying in Korea for two years, said almost everyone he knows in his hometown has been affected by the war.
“I’m from Dnipro, which is near the biggest nuclear power plant, so there’s been a lot of bombing,” he said. “There was a bomb explosion in my yard, and almost every one of my friends’ apartments have been hit by missiles.”
He said that Korea, as one of the wealthier countries in the world, could send more help to Ukraine.
“It doesn’t have to be heavy arms like tanks. It can be medical help or anything. We need every help that Korea’s law and system can allow.”
Metelitsa Oleg, 60, from Belarus said that he and many of his fellow Belarusians were “really upset” about his government’s alignment with Russia.
“Belarusian people hate Putin. We support Ukraine. Putin is using Belarusian territory to invade Ukraine. It is horrible and really such a big shame,” he said.
He said this was not his first time attending an anti-war demonstration in South Korea.
“We’ve gotten lots of support from Korean people,” he said. “We have to support Ukraine as much as possible. Russia will be fighting with the whole world on Ukraine’s side.”
He said she will continue to participate in actions to support Ukraine.
“I’ve been showing up at rallies at least once a month. This is not my first, and won’t be the last.”