Ukrainian flags fly in front of the offices of the Russian bank Gazprombank in Luxembourg on Friday. Six police officers, accompanied by two security guards, tell the first two demonstrators who arrive to move to the opposite pavement. Iryna Nikitina and Sergei Nikitin obeyed and waited for the rest of the protesters.
Nikitina is draped in a blue and yellow flag. Nikitin carries a black sign that reads “Wake up now” under the nuclear symbol.
“We have to wake up now because afterwards it will be too late,” he says. The couple are Ukrainian and have been living in Luxembourg for 11 years. “Since the war started, we have been trying to be active,” Nikitina. “We think that all trade with Russia should be stopped, including the purchase of gas, which finances the war.”
By demonstrating outside Gazprom Group’s bank, “we are not here to scare the people who work here, but to show them that they are a threat to Ukraine and to Europe by financing Russia.”
Little by little, the group grows. It soon consists of nine people holding up their placards in front of the bank, in a calm and peaceful atmosphere. Among them is Valeria Pasternak. “This is not a war, it’s terrorism, genocide,” says the Ukrainian, who has lived on the German border for 15 years. She calls Vladimir Putin a maniac. “Other leaders would have reacted to the economic sanctions in place, but not him. That’s why we have to do everything we can.”
Another Valeria (she does not wish to give her full name) shares this opinion. She too is draped in a flag from Ukraine, her country of origin, which she left for Luxembourg five years ago. “My whole family lives in Kyiv. Every morning I wonder if they are alive.”
Playing on finance
“If there is one sector that [Luxembourg] can put pressure on, it is finance,” she says. “There are still a lot of Russian capital here, accounts of oligarchs close to Putin”, making Gazprombank a “war portfolio”.
The financial institution set up offices in Luxembourg in 2013 and on its website calls itself “a wholly-owned subsidiary of Gazprombank, the third largest financial institution in Russia”. It employs around 100 people in the Grand Duchy. “I think it’s a small price to pay, especially knowing the unemployment system, compared to the war in Ukraine,” says Valeria about staff losing their jobs if the bank were to close.
You live in European comfort and safety, don’t be afraid.
While the bank is not among the seven excluded from the Swift system by the European Union, members of the CSV opposition have asked why it was able to obtain a banking licence in Luxembourg in the first place.
An ultimatum, no return
The protest, which lasted from 11am to 1pm, was attended by around 20 people according to organiser Mark Kitchell. An American and European citizen working for Amazon in Luxembourg, he also has friends in Ukraine. Before the event, he sent a letter to the bank’s executives.
“I call on you to come out today and talk with the protesters. If your bank is innocent, you are free to tell us. If you are one of the millions of Russians against the war, you can join us. You live in European comfort and security, don’t be afraid,” he wrote.
But no one came down. “I am not surprised. I think we made our point. The action was mainly symbolic, I know they are not going to close the bank tonight.” He says he was satisfied with the way things had gone with the city, which had granted him his permit to protest. When contacted, the bank did not respond to Delano’s sister publication Paperjam.
This story was first published in French on Paperjam. It has been translated and edited for Delano.