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UKRAINE

IN PICTURES: Tens of thousands of people across Germany demonstrate for peace in Ukraine

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of several major German cities on Sunday to protest against Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

People take part in a protest against the war in Ukraine in Frankfurt
People take part in a protest against the war in Ukraine on March 13th, 2022, in Frankfurt am Main, western Germany. (Photo by Yann Schreiber / AFP)
According to the organisers, some 125,000 people across Germany marched for peace on Sunday.

Large letters spell out the word “Peace” during a demonstration against Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, on March 13th, 2022 in Berlin. (Photo by John MACDOUGALL / AFP)

The demonstration was called by an alliance of peace, human rights and environmental protection organisations, trade unions and churches. 

In a written appeal, organisers condemned the “increasingly brutal” attacks against civilians in Ukraine, and praised the courage of Russians protesting against Moscow’s actions.

“Together, we call on Putin to immediately stop the attacks, withdraw from Ukraine and restore the nation’s territorial integrity,” the letter said.

Protesters display altered portraits of Russian President Vladimir Putin during a demonstration against Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, in Berlin on March 13th, 2022. (Photo by John MACDOUGALL / AFP)
 

In Berlin, demonstrators, including young and old, families and children, massed at Brandenburg Gate. Some carried yellow and blue balloons, the colour of Ukraine, while others waved placards with slogans such as “Stop the War”, “Peace”, “What happened to the vaccine against war?” and “Stop Putin”.

 
Police estimated that 20,000-30,000 people took part in the city, while the organisers put the number at 60,000.
 
There was a strong police presence, too – 550 officers – but the atmosphere was peaceful and most participants worse masks. 
 

A giant figure representing Russian President Vladimir Putin swallowing a map of the Ukraine is seen during the demonstration on March 13th, 2022 in Berlin. The figure was created by French carnival float constructor Jacques Tilly and in Duesseldorf, western Germany, during a Rose Monday event in this carnival hotspot. The lettering reads: “Choke on it!!!”. (Photo by John MACDOUGALL / AFP)

The turnout in Berlin on Sunday was smaller than the 100,000-strong crowd that attended a Ukraine solidarity march in the capital two weeks ago, three days after Russia launched its invasion.

A man participating in a demonstration against the war in Ukraine holds up a banner reading “Turn off the gas tap” in Stuttgart, southern Germany, on March 13th, 2022. (Photo by THOMAS KIENZLE / AFP)

In Frankfurt, around 11,000 people gathered in solidarity with Ukrainians, according to a police spokesman, who said the rallies proceeded “peacefully and without incident”.

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CRIME

Ukrainian Holocaust survivors find safe haven in Germany

Borys Shyfrin fled as a young child, along with other members of his Jewish family, from the Nazis.

Ukrainian Holocaust survivors find safe haven in Germany

More than eight decades on, the Ukrainian Holocaust survivor has been forced from his home once more – but this time he’s found a safe haven in Germany.

Shyfrin is among a number of Ukrainian Jews who lived through the Nazi terror and have now fled to the country from which Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich launched its drive try to wipe Jews out.

He never wanted to leave Mariupol, where he had lived for decades. But Russia’s brutal assault on the Ukrainian port city made it impossible to stay.

“There was no gas, no electricity, no water whatsoever,” the 81-year-old told AFP from a care home in Frankfurt, recalling the relentless bombardment by Moscow’s forces.

“We were waiting for the authorities to come… We waited for a day, two days a week.”

Bodies of people killed by bombs and gunfire littered the streets, recalled Shyfrin, a widower who had lost contact with his only son.

“There were so many of them… no one picked them up. People got used to it – no one paid attention.”

People scraped by finding what food they could, with water supplied by a fire engine that made regular visits to his neighbourhood.

Shyfrin’s apartment was damaged during the fighting in Mariupol – defended so fiercely that it became a symbol of Ukrainian resistance – and he spent much time sheltering in the cellar of his building.

Became homeless

The elderly man eventually left Mariupol with the aid of a rabbi, who helped the local Jewish population get out of the city.

He was evacuated to Crimea, and from there, travelled on a lengthy overland journey through Russia and Belarus, eventually arriving in Warsaw, Poland.

After some weeks in Poland, a place in a care home was found in Frankfurt.

In July, he was transported to Germany in an ambulance, with the help of the Claims Conference, a Jewish organisation that has been aiding the evacuation of Ukrainian Holocaust survivors.

Shyfrin, who walks with the aid of a stick, is still processing the whirlwind of events that carried him unexpectedly to Germany.

The outbreak of war was a “very big surprise”, he said.

“I used to love (Russian President Vladimir) Putin very much,” said Shyfrin, who is a native Russian speaker, did military service in the Soviet Union, and went on to work as a radio engineer with the military.

“Now I do not know whether Putin is right to be at war with Ukraine or not – but somehow, because of this war, I have become homeless.”

Shyfrin was born in 1941, in Gomel, Belarus.

When he was just three months old, his family fled to Tajikistan to escape German Nazi forces who were occupying the region.

Many of Belarus’s Jews died during the Holocaust, in which the Nazis killed a total of six million European Jews.

In neighbouring Ukraine, the once-large Jewish community was also almost completely wiped out.

After the war, his family returned to Belarus and Shyfrin completed his studies, did military service, and settled in Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union, in the mid-1970s.

“Traumatised”

The pensioner seemed philosophical about the twist of fate that has forced him to leave his home.

“Well, it’s not up to me,” he said, when asked about having to flee war for the second time in his life.

His most immediate concerns are more practical – such as how to access his money back home.

“I can’t even receive my honestly earned military pension,” he said.

He recently moved to a new care home run by the Jewish community, where there are more Russian speakers.

As well as helping Shyfrin on the final leg of his journey, the Claims Conference provided him with financial assistance.

It has evacuated over 90 Ukrainian Holocaust survivors to Germany since the outbreak of the conflict, a break from the organisation’s usual work of ensuring that survivors get compensation and ongoing support.

The body had long been helping to run care programmes for Holocaust victims in Ukraine.

But, as the conflict intensified, it became clear such care programmes could no longer be sustained, particularly in the east, said Ruediger Mahlo, the Conference’s representative in Germany.

“Because many of the survivors needed a lot of care and could not survive without this help, it was clear we had to try to do everything to evacuate (them),” he told AFP.

Getting them out involved huge logistical challenges, from finding ambulances in Ukraine to locating suitable care homes.

For many of the frail Holocaust survivors, it can be a struggle to grasp the fact that they have found refuge in Germany, said Mahlo.

They are fleeing to a country that “had in the past persecuted them, and done everything to kill them,” he said.

“Certainly, they are traumatised,” he said.

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