The shoes, said to have belonged to a child killed in the besieged city of Mariupol, were used as a symbol to represent the more than 143 children who Ukrainian officials say have lost their lives to Vladimir Putin’s war. As they placed the garment outside German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s executive office, demonstrators had a straightforward message for his government. Ukrainian refugee Iryna Zemlyan said: “We brought them to Olaf Scholz and propose that he sell them to Russia, as he is selling goods to Russia.”
According to Ms Zemlyan, the owner of the shoes was a six-year-old called Tatyana.
She said: “And these shoes are completely new. She didn’t have a chance to wear them.
“We hope it will touch his heart — if he has one — and that he will stop the trading.”
Svitlana Maistriuk, another of the Ukrainians involved in the emotive action, added: “Scholz can sell these shoes, as cynically and in cold blood as he sells all the other goods to Russia which provides the Russians with relative comfort.”
Ms Zemlyan and Ms Maistriuk are part of a group of activists who organised a blockade of trucks on the Polish-Belarusian border transiting to Russia to demand the European Union stop trading with Moscow, which they argue contributes to financing the regime’s assaults on Ukraine.
The campaign started on March 12 and lasted for two weeks.
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While the governments of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia officially expressed their readiness to ban trade with Russia by land and sea and called on the EU Commission to impose a bloc-wide ban, some countries — including Germany — have as yet not acceded.
On Tuesday, March 29, the demonstrators arrived in the capital Berlin to hand a letter to Mr Scholz in which they warned they are ready to start a blockade on the German border.
It read: “We demand a complete stop of the flow of goods to Russia and its allies.
“Each transported item only strengthens the Russian regime, spreads terror, and kills innocent people in a free and sovereign state.
“The eastern border of the EU must be immediately closed to trade with Russia and Belarus.”
At the core of the issue of the EU’s links with Russia is energy.
Despite significant sanctions on Moscow, including freezing its central bank’s assets, several member states are showing resistance to imposing an outright ban on oil and gas from Russia.
For the EU to agree on an embargo, unanimous approval from all 27 nations is required.
On Monday, March 21, Germany was clear in that it opposed deciding on an embargo, arguing they were all too dependent on Russia’s natural assets – with the Netherlands and Hungary opposing a ban, too.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told reporters: “The question of an oil embargo is not a question of whether we want or don’t want (it), but a question of how much we depend on oil.”
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Emphasising her country was not the only one that would be impacted by fully cutting ties with Moscow, she said: “Germany is importing a lot (of Russian oil), but there are also other member states who can’t stop the oil imports from one day to the other.”
On Wednesday, March 30, Berlin activated an emergency plan for gas supplies over fears the Kremlin could cut off its flow to Europe after claims it would make “unfriendly” countries that have imposed sanctions on Moscow pay in roubles for Russian gas.
The Russian president set March 31 as the deadline for the rouble payments, with Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov saying the day before: “No one will supply gas for free, it is simply impossible, and you can pay for it only in roubles.”
European countries, which pay mostly in euros, have so far rejected the demand, and Germany and Poland called it a breach of contract.
Berlin’s early warning to citizens, announced by Economy Minister Robert Habeck, is the first of three stages in the country’s emergency plan aimed at securing supplies.
Mr Habeck called on consumers and businesses to reduce consumption, telling them “every kilowatt-hour counts”.
While supplies are safe for now, he added “we must increase precautionary measures to be prepared for an escalation on the part of Russia”.
On Wednesday, Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament, suggested the switch to rouble payments could be extended for other commodities, such as oil, grains, metals, fertiliser, coal and timber.
Additional reporting by Monika Pallenberg