Elliot Uotinen, 5, joined the We Stand With Ukraine protest at the Esplanade Park in Helsinki with his mother, father and grandfather, and nearly 10,000 others, on February 26, 2022. Photograph: TONY ÖHBERG/FINLAND TODAY

President Sauli Niinistö’s call with his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky, on Friday was dramatically interrupted when an alarm was sounded in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, where President Zelensky resides.

President Niinistö told about the disruption in a press conference on the same evening after participating in a virtual NATO summit alongside Sweden. Finland and Sweden are not NATO members, but as close allies are sometimes allowed to participate in the military alliance’s meetings to stay up to date.

During the meeting, Russian troops were bombing the Ukrainian capital, while many residents took cover in bomb shelters in churches and subway stations scattered across the city, while others were fleeing the city in crowded trains and in cars that crawled on the busy roads.

In Finland, minister after minister, organization after organization—companies, protesters and the president have condemned the attack on Ukraine, after missile strikes and gunfire began all over the country on Thursday morning when Russia invaded its borders.

During Friday’s call between President Niinistö and Zelensky, the Finnish president reiterated that “Finland strongly condemns Russia’s military actions in Ukraine and supports Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.” While President Niinistö expressed “deep compassion to Ukraine on behalf of the people of Finland,” he also informed his Ukrainian counterpart that Finland will increase its financial support to Ukraine by almost €15 million.

“Grateful to Finland for allocating $50 million aid,” Zelensky said on Twitter after the call.

Finland as an EU country also supports the sanctions placed upon Russia, and according to Prime Minister Sanna Marin (the SDP), Finland is also preparing to receive Ukrainian refugees. Exactly how many is still unclear.

Meanwhile, people in Finland have been hoarding iodine tablets after learning that the Russian forces seized the Chernobyl nuclear power plant on Thursday. While the plant has not been properly functioning since one of the reactors exploded in 1986 and sent clouds of nuclear material across much of Europe, it stores nuclear waste in the cellar.

Others, somewhat 1,500 people, gathered on Thursday to protest against Russia’s actions in front of the Russian Embassy on Tehtaankatu in Helsinki.

The Helsinki City Hall is illuminated in the colors of yellow and blue in solidarity with Ukraine on February 25, 2022. Photograph: TONY ÖHBERG/FINLAND TODAY

The Helsinki City Hall and the Foreign Ministry illuminated their buildings in yellow and blue, and so joined in similar acts of solidarity seen in photos from across the globe.

And if Russia’s actions in Ukraine so far weren’t enough, it also managed to raise eyebrows in some circles when Maria Zakharova, the director of the information and press department of the Russian Foreign Ministry, warned of “military and political consequences” if Finland joins NATO amid the Ukraine crisis.

Zakharova was speaking in Russian, which was translated afterward in slightly different ways in different media outlets, and the exact message is somewhat ambiguous. (For example, the Russian Foreign Ministry tweeted the following, “We regard the Finnish government’s commitment to a military non-alignment policy as an important factor in ensuring security and stability in northern Europe.”

What Zakharova exactly said became under scrutiny in the press conference with President Niinistö on Friday. In a nutshell: Niinistö said that he doesn’t see a change in Russia’s rhetoric.

Russian President Vladimir Putin at the press conference after his talks with the Finnish president, Sauli Niinistö, at Kultaranta, Naantali, on July 1, 2016. Photograph: TONY ÖHBERG/FINLAND TODAY

Neither does the journalist, who has heard similar use of language from the horse’s mouth when Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Kultaranta, the Finnish president’s official summer residence, in July 2016.

Then, and now, Russian troops remain far from the Finnish borders. But, “let’s imagine that Finland would join NATO,” Putin said. “What do you think? Would we still keep our troops within a distance of 1,500 kilometers from the Finnish borders?” he continued.

In the past few days, the feelings related to the war in discussions with Finns and Russians have shown signals of fear and disappointment. Many want to wake up from the “bad dream.” When will it end?

That’s why three separate protests supporting Ukraine were arranged in Helsinki on Saturday.

Ukrainian Association in Finland arranged a protest against Russia’s actions in their native country at the Mannerheim statue in Helsinki on February 26, 2022. Photograph: TONY ÖHBERG/FINLAND TODAY

“We had to do something in solidarity with a country being invaded,” said Heikki Uotinen, grandfather of Elliot, 5, who was holding a sign that said: “STOP KILLING PEOPLE!” on top of a snowdrift in the Esplanade Park in Helsinki center where thousands attended the We Stand With Ukraine protest.

The Finnish prime minister made a rare appearance in a special TV broadcast of the public service media company YLE on Friday evening where she was asked if Finns should be worried in the light of the recent events.

“There is no imminent threat against Finland,” Prime Minister Marin said.

Defence Minister Antti Kaikkonen (the Centre), also on YLE, described the current situation more poetically:

“I understand that this surely raises concerns among many Finns. However, we are ready for this, and so we are safe in this situation as well,” he said and continued, “I think that we should aim to live a normal everyday life. Everyone takes care of their own place, what we had yesterday and today. This way Finland will survive best. Send the children to school tomorrow, go to work, one can call grandma and ask how she’s doing.”



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