Ukrainians gather in Brussels to support their president – Politico

For a few moments, they were just a short walk from their president, even though they lived thousands of kilometers from home.

About 200 displaced Ukrainians gathered on the edge of Shuman Roundabout, the nerve center of the European Union, on Thursday morning, hoping to catch a glimpse of Volodymyr Zelensky as he passed through Brussels (some massive security operation was highly unlikely).

They sang, they chanted and they waved the yellow-blue Ukrainian flag. They represented Zelensky’s real constituency, even if his main audience of the day was 27 national leaders gathered in the glass bowels of the European Council building.

“We want to support him,” said Ksenia Tanokem, who arrived in Brussels in April after fleeing Russian forces in Kherson. “Many Europeans want an end to war. But it cannot be stopped now.”

Kesnia’s husband, Lionel, stood next to her. He was working as a sailor overseas when the war broke out and later joined Ksenia and their four-year-old daughter in Brussels. They were just three of thousands of Ukrainians who made Belgium their wartime home.

Zelensky’s presence in their adopted city reminded those left behind in Ukraine. Ksenia’s parents are from Russian-occupied Nova Kakhovka, a town in the southern part of Kherson Oblast. He showed the damaged buildings near his parents’ house through a telegram channel. “They destroyed everything,” she said.

Every day, Ksenia sends her parents photos of her daughter and husband. Good news from Brussels. Their daughter, who spent her fourth birthday in the shelling, is now at a school in Belgium. Ksenia is taking free language courses.

“They are full of hope that we can be together again,” he reflected.

This sense of the future is reinforced by Zelenskiy’s presence in EU capitals. “Just watching him from a distance would be great,” Lionel said. “He gives us dreams.” Before the war, Ksenia added, “The Ukrainian people do not like Zelensky. But we have seen what kind of person he is.”

“I am very proud of my president,” agreed Inha Podoroga from Kyiv. “He changed the world.” He wanted to thank Belgium: “I love this country. People have opened their hearts.”

But Zelenskyy’s mission is not only for the EU heart – not even only for EU membership. It also wants European weapons and warplanes.

“There are a lot of feelings,” says Victoria Dziuba. “But we can’t carry too much emotion because people are dying. … We hope he will convince them to give us F-16s and hard artillery … We are looking for results.”

It is not only their country that needs these weapons. The crowd was almost exclusively women and older men. Arms are for their fathers, husbands and sons.

“We need more soldiers,” said Anastasia Savchenko, who came from Kyiv.

Savchenko is in Brussels with her mother and 18-year-old sister. Her husband and father, like many Ukrainian men of fighting age, are in the army. Savchenko’s mother showed a photo of her husband, a scruffy, graying man who appeared to be in his fifties. He was wearing the same military green T-shirt that has become an icon of Zelensky defiance.

They are as worried about Zelensky as they are about men. “I hope nothing bad happens on his international tour”, Savchenko said.

Savchenko, a university graduate, said the war had put her life on hold.

“I’m just waiting until Ukraine wins,” he said. But I know we will win. A million percent.”