Ukraine's embattled leader urges Swiss banks to drop Russian oligarchs

Demonstrators who gathered in Bern on Saturday in solidarity with Ukraine heard a video address from the war-torn nation's president, Volodymyr Telensky. © Keystone / Peter Klaunzer

Thousands of people joined a "Solidarity with Ukraine, Stop the War Now!" rally held on Saturday in the Swiss capital, Bern. President Ignazio Cassis was also present at the demonstration. He introduced his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky who addressed the crowds from Kyiv using live streaming technology.

This content was published on March 19, 2022 minutes

The embattled leader urged Switzerland to take a stronger stance on Russian oligarchs, accusing them of helping to wage war on his country while owing real estate and enjoying life in the "beautiful communities" of the Alpine nation. "It would be fair to deprive them of this privilege he said." 

"Just as I wanted the Ukrainians to live like the Swiss...," he said, recalling how frequent visits to the country had left him impressed by its high standards of living and freedoms. "I also want you to be and become like the Ukrainians. In the fight against evil. So that there is no question about banks. About your banks. Where the money of all those who started this war is kept."

"It's painful and it's hard," he added, according to an official transcript. "But it is also a struggle against evil. It is necessary to completely freeze all the assets of these people and their accounts. It's a big fight, and you can do it."

Switzerland has fully adopted the European Union sanctions against Russian individuals and entities, despite cherishing its tradition of neutrality and not being a member of the bloc. 

Swiss banks hold an estimated $213 billion (CHF200 billion) of Russian wealth, according to Reuters, which cited figures of the financial industry association.

Zelensky also took aim at Swiss food giant Nestlé for refusing to leave Russia "despite all our murdered children" and Moscow's threats to Europe, including engaging in "nuclear blackmail".

  + Nestlé under pressure to exit Russia over Ukraine 

'We are one'

Earlier in the day, the Ukrainian ambassador to Switzerland launched the event by expressing his gratitude for the broad support shown for the plight of Ukrainians by the Swiss and Europeans.  

"We are one," he stressed, acknowledging efforts to support his compatriots on the ground and those who have become refugees.

The mayor of Bern, Alec von Graffenried of the Green Party, expressed the city’s solidarity with all the people in Ukraine –  in Kyiv, Lviv, Mariupol and other cities that have been attacked by Russia since it launched a full-scale invasion against its neighbour, according to Swiss news agency Keystone-SDA.

 "War does not belong in our world, we are against war!" emphasised the mayor, inviting those present to sing an anti-war song by Edwin Starr, against the war in Vietnam. "War, huh, yeah What is it good for? Absolutely nothing," the crowd sang. 

Von Graffenried also spoke of the plight of Russian people, forced by their leader, Vladimir Putin, into a war they don't want.

Suddenly, the voice of Ukraine’s embattled leader, was heard over the loudspeakers as protesters chanted “we are one.”

The Ukrainian president was welcomed by Cassis, who thanked him for being present "virtually" in Bern.

Dreams of peace and freedom

The Swiss president told Zelensky "this multitude, dear Volodymyr, wants to show you that your people are not alone. There are Swiss, there are people from all over the world and there are many Ukrainians."

In remarks directed at the Ukrainians, Cassis said, “You are welcome.”

The Swiss president added, "We are impressed by the courage with which you fight for democracy, freedom and peace. We are all impressed by the unity with which you oppose Russia. But above all we are impressed by the way you defend the fundamental values of freedom, which are also our fundamental values."

Expressing himself in perfect German, President Zelensky greeted all the Swiss people, thanking them for their support: "thank you for supporting our struggle for freedom and peace".

"This is a dream for all of us: to be able to live like in Switzerland, with well-being, peace and freedom," the Ukrainian president continued. "For you it is normal, we have to fight to achieve this. We were on this path, until February 24, when everything changed, not only for us Ukrainians but also for all of Europe."

Editorial note: some quotes in this text have been modified to align with the official English-language transcript of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

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