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Ukrainians rally in İstanbul to protest Russian invasion of their homeland

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Ukrainians living in Turkey and representatives of several nongovernmental organizations gathered in front of the Russian Consulate General in İstanbul on Friday to protest Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the DHA news agency reported on Friday.

During the rally, which started around 10 a.m., protestors carrying Ukrainian, Crimean and Turkish flags chanted slogans against Russian President Vladimir Putin and the military operation he launched in Ukraine on Thursday, DHA said.

Putin, who had amassed over 100,000 Russian troops around Ukraine in recent months but denied he had any intention of invading, on Thursday announced a military operation in Ukraine.

The move comes just days after Russia recognized two separatist-held enclaves in the eastern part of the country, which drew international condemnation and announcements of tougher sanctions on Moscow.

The protestors were seen holding placards reading “Putin, hands off Ukraine!” “No war, stop Putin” and “Russians are against this war,” and some wept during the rally, according to DHA, which also said the protest, held under a heavy police presence, was expected to last all day.

Meanwhile, opposition politicians on Thursday criticized Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) for failing to evacuate Turkish citizens in Ukraine before the start of the war.

Engin Altay, a deputy group chairman from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), said during a speech in parliament that there were 20,000 Turks – most of them students – in Ukraine, adding that he wished Turkey’s Foreign Ministry had been able to warn them to leave the country days earlier, as many other governments did.

Also speaking in parliament on Thursday, Meral Danış Beştaş, parliamentary group deputy chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), said Turkish students stranded in Ukraine told her they were unable to talk to government authorities about their situation.

“There are many students, Turkish citizens, there. They want to return to Turkey, [but] they can’t find any flights. [Therefore], they can’t leave,” Beştaş said.

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry on Thursday released an announcement on its website, advising Turks in Ukraine to stay in their houses or somewhere safe, to avoid traveling and to share their contact details with the ministry by e-mail, WhatsApp or SMS text message to the e-mail address and phone number of the ministry, which is included in the notice.

AKP spokesperson Ömer Çelik on Thursday said an evacuation of Turkish citizens who want to leave the country was impossible at present because the relevant roads were closed.

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