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“South Africa, Open Your Eyes!”

“South Africa, Open Your Eyes!” pleads Spokesperson of the Ukrainian Association of South Africa.

Gathered in front of the Department of International Relations and Co-operation in Cape Town City Centre last Thursday, the Ukrainian Association of South Africa (UAZA) held a protest calling for the South African Government to “Publicly and without Reservation condemn the Russian Invasion of Ukraine.”

6 days ago a collection of Ukrainian and South African civilians congregated together in a protest to plead with the South African Government. Protestors expressed their need for the government to stand against Russian President Vladimir Putin, who, a week and a half ago, ordered an invasion of the neighboring country Ukraine, attacking the cities of Kyiv and Kharkiv and causing the deaths of thousands of civilians. The crowd was adorned in the Ukrainian colours of blue and yellow and held posters and flags in support of the suffering nation. Ukrainian citizens spoke on behalf of their people, pleading for assistance and co-operation from South Africa and the public. Men, women, and children collected to express their distress and anger at the government, and their fear for the safety of their fellow citizens and homeland. The 2-hour protest was accompanied by fundraising for Ukrainians in need, songs from traditional Ukrainian heritage and the national anthem, while cars driving past hooted in support of the gathering.

“This is not for Ukraine, this is for the South African Constitution,” said spokesperson Dzvinka Kachur, reading aloud the UAZA petition for South Africa to condemn the invasion, explaining that while the rest of the world had come together in support of Ukraine, “the South African Government had abstained from the UNGA vote to condemn the illegal and illegitimate invasion of Ukraine”. Kachur addressed the crowd, stating “every South African should be ashamed of their government who, despite its difficult history, its fight for democracy and fight against apartheid, has abstained.” Kachur drew on famous South African idols to reiterate her points: “Steve Biko said there is no freedom in silence, but that is what we see from today’s government.”

The UAZA petition also called for the government to “allow visa-free entrance to South Africa for Ukrainians whose family members are temporarily or permanently living in South Africa”. “My own children who were born in South Africa, today don’t have their Ukrainian home” says Kachur, “and tomorrow might lose their South African home too.” ALL AGES. Supporters both young and old gathered in front of Parliament to advocate for Ukraine.

Various spokespeople followed Kachur’s speech, giving their own personal stories, accounts of their homes in Ukraine now destroyed and of fellow Ukrainians being denied visa applications and being told to return to their country of residence to apply. “I am angry!” says a young Ukrainian woman, moved to tears as she spoke up for her country. “My people can’t even sleep at night, because they don’t know if they are going to wake up!”

It is in light of these injustices that the UAZA called on the public and the South African government to “open their eyes”; hear their voices, and “reaffirm the values of human rights”. Ending with a plan for future protests, the UAZA representatives pleaded one last time to the public, to visit their website and find out more information on how to donate and support the Ukrainian people during this time of crisis.

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