Prague voices defiance amid Russian elections and Mariupol anniversary

Twin narratives of electoral manipulation and wartime atrocities coalesced into a resounding condemnation of the Kremlin’s actions this weekend in Prague. Staff ČTK

Written by StaffČTK Published on 18.03.2024 10:20:00 (updated on 18.03.2024) Reading time: 3 minutes

In Prague this weekend, divergent voices echoed through the streets, denouncing the Russian presidential elections as a sham and honoring the victims of Mariupol’s harrowing tragedy on the anniversary of one of the most significant terrorist attacks in Ukraine.

Putin secures fifth term

As Russian President Vladimir Putin secured an unsurprising fifth term, protesters assembled in Wenceslas Square on Sunday, their acts of dissent casting a resolute rebuke against the Kremlin’s repression.

Organized by the Kulturus group, demonstrators revealed a symbolic cube adorned with slogans like “Prague against Putin,” gradually unmasking the messages through colored squares. A bust of the Russian leader was set ablaze, embodying the collective rejection of his tightening grip on power. Organizer Anton Litvin outlined the event's dual purpose: 

"We have two goals for this event,” said Litvin. “The first is to show solidarity with the Russian opposition who were protesting at the polling stations...The second goal is to let the Czechs and Ukrainians know that Russians in Prague stand against Putin, support Ukraine, and are against the war.”

The design of the cube was inspired by the campaign methods of Alexei Navalny, a prominent Russian opposition figure who died in a Russian prison in February. The cube features Czech, Russian, and English inscriptions designed to draw attention to excluding opposition candidates from the elections.

Czech diplomacy: Russian election a 'tragedy and farce'

In Prague, the Czech Foreign Ministry also condemned this weekend’s presidential election in Russia as undemocratic and lacking transparency.

Four candidates were registered, including Putin and representatives from the Communist, Liberal Democratic, and New People parties. However, anti-war candidates like Boris Nadezhdin were barred from running, adding to concerns about the lack of genuine opposition.

A statement issued Sunday by the ministry cited systematic suppression of civil society, independent media, and opposition voices within Russia, joining Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who criticized Putin’s lust for power and the White House, which deemed the election unfair.

Czech diplomacy also condemned elections in Ukrainian territories under occupation.

“The Czech Republic refuses to acknowledge the holding of the invalid electoral process in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, the city of Sevastopol, and various regions of Ukraine, including Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson. The occupation of these territories defies the principles of international law. It violates Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity under the UN Charter,” read a statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

National Theatre event marks Mariupol tragedy

On Saturday, dozens of individuals gathered on Václav Havel Square near Prague’s National Theatre to mark the second anniversary of the Russian assault on the Mariupol Theatre, where around 1,000 civilians had sought refuge.

The Voice of Ukraine Czech-Ukrainian group organized the “The Mariupol Theatre – Two Years Later” event, where a sign reading “Children” – mirroring the desperate plea on the theater’s roof – illuminated the night as candles flickered atop its letters. Yevhen Kulesha from the Ukrainian Embassy in Prague spoke at the event: 

“The Russian terror against the civilian population of Ukraine continues every day. On March 16, 2022, the Russian occupiers committed one of the biggest terrorist attacks in Ukraine. Even the large sign on the square in front of the building, written in a language the Russians understood, did not help,” he said.

Other speakers addressed child abductions to Russia, torture of Ukrainian prisoners of war, and other injustices. The mother of a captured soldier also spoke, sharing her distress at being unaware of her son's fate during the 22 months since his capture.

On May 20, 2022, Russian forces seized Azovstal Steel Works and Mariupol, marking a significant victory. Ukrainian defenders surrendered after intense fighting, resulting in the capture of over 6,000 soldiers. Mariupol’s fall symbolized Russian invasion devastation, with estimated casualties of around 20,000, according to Ukrainian sources.

As Prague’s streets echoed this weekend with defiance and mourning, the twin narratives of electoral manipulation and wartime atrocities coalesced into a resounding condemnation of the Kremlin’s actions.

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