BERLIN: Kyiv on Sunday condemned Berlin’s “mistake” after German police confiscated a giant Ukrainian flag displayed by demonstrators at the Soviet War Memorial in the German capital.
Police had imposed a ban on displays of flags or military symbols at 15 memorial sites across Berlin, including the iconic site at the central Tiergarten park and another in Treptower Park.
But they went further with additional measures on Sunday and Monday, saying it was to ensure that a World War II commemoration ceremony stayed peaceful.
“Berlin made a mistake by prohibiting Ukrainian symbols,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted. “It’s deeply false to treat them equally with Russian symbols.
“Taking a Ukrainian flag away from peaceful protesters is an attack on everyone who now defends Europe and Germany from Russian aggression with this flag in hands,” he added.
Germany has already outlawed the display of the “Z” symbol used by the Russian army in its invasion of Ukraine.
Tensions are running high over possible pro-Russian demonstrations on the two highly symbolic days commemorating the defeat of the Nazis and the end of World War II.
Berlin’s decision had sparked strong criticism from the Ukrainian community, including Kyiv’s ambassador to Germany Andrij Melnyk, who called it a “catastrophic politically wrong decision”.
Under heavy police presence, the Ukrainian embassy on Sunday held a commemoration ceremony at the imposing Soviet memorial in Tiergarten park, with Melnyk leaving a wreath of blue and yellow flowers.
Counter-protesters gathered outside the cordoned-off area, some chanting “Melnyk out” while others shouted “Slava Ukraini” (Glory to Ukraine).
As guests of the embassy were allowed to display flags, that sparked “expressions of discontent among bystanders”, said police.
“In order to secure the peaceful, dignified commemoration, our colleagues rolled up a 25m-long Ukrainian flag,” they added on Twitter.
Some 1,600 police officers were deployed in Berlin alone on Sunday amid dozens of expected protests across the capital.
Likewise on Monday, they will be out in force, with 1,800 officers on the ground.
The Tiergarten memorial commemorates the 80,000 Soviet troops who lost their lives in the battle for Berlin, which led to the capitulation of Nazi Germany on May 8, 1945 and the end of World War II in Europe.
It is decorated with two tanks and a bronze statue of a triumphant Soviet soldier on a marble pedestal.