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How Switzerland reacted to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – and how you can help

Swiss government has condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and messages of support — both symbolic and concrete — are pouring in from all parts of the country.

How Switzerland reacted to Russia's invasion of Ukraine - and how you can help
Refugees gather on the Ukrainian-Polish border. Photo by Wojtek RADWANSKI / AFP

The Federal Council condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Additionally, Russian individuals and entities on a European Union blacklist will not be able to use Swiss banks to circumvent European sanctions against Russia, Switzerland’s Financial Supervisory Authority (Finma) said on Friday.

As of 6 pm on Friday evening, financial intermediaries in Switzerland were prohibited from entering into new business relationships with the individuals and companies on the sanctions list, and must immediately report existing business relationships, Finma said in a statement.

“Further steps to strengthen these measures are currently being prepared”.

Earlier, the Swiss government added to its watchlist 363 new Russian individuals and four companies that the EU had put on its sanctions list.

Switzerland also elected to join the EU in imposing sanctions on Russia, saying doing nothing would not be consistent with its long-held policy of neutrality. 

Sanctions on Russia: Is Switzerland still a neutral nation?

Will Switzerland take in Ukrainian refugees?

The number of refugees to enter Europe from Ukraine could reach around four million, the EU announced at a news conference in Brussels.

Some have already poured into neighbouring Poland, with others expected to end up in other European countries.

Switzerland has also pledged to take in Ukrainian refugees. 

While the country does not lie in immediate geographic proximity to Ukraine, “we will not let the Ukrainians down”, Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter, said on Friday. 

Early on, the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) said the country could take in up to 2,000 Ukrainian refugees, “depending on the evolution of the conflict”.

“Switzerland has the will to show solidarity. An emergency plan is available in the event of major migratory movements”, according to SEM.

As at March 8th, this has since been expanded to 5,000 official places for refugees. By end of March, this number was increased to 60,000

Refugees from Ukraine arriving in Switzerland have been told to apply at one of six processing centres located across the country in Geneva, Zurich, Bern, St Gallen, Basel and Ticino. 

The government has already indicated they will be eligible to obtain a right of residence without having to go through an ordinary asylum procedure.

Anyone wanting to take in Ukrainian refugees at home can put their name on the following list.

Switzerland on Friday announced it would activate the ’S-Permit’, which facilitates emergency protection.

The S-Permit allows people to live and work in Switzerland for a year, with the possibility of extension.

Switzerland’s special ‘S permit’ visa program: What Ukrainians need to know

More information about the permit is available here.

Pro-Ukrainian demonstrations

Aside from the official measures, Switzerland’s population has also rallied behind Ukraine.

Early in March, around 20,000 people gathered in Bern to express their solidarity with Ukraine and condemn Russia.

While this was, to date, the largest pro-Ukraine demonstration in Switzerland, other rallies also took place over the weekend. Several hundred  protested in front of the United Nations in Geneva, with more expected in Bellinzona (TI), Basel and Lucerne.

Private initiatives

More than 11,000 private individuals have volunteered to host refugees in their homes, amounting to an estimated 31,000 beds, as at March 8th. 

As reported by Swiss media, countless individuals embarked on the 1,700-km drive from Switzerland to the Ukrainian border in order to provide donations and pick up refugees. 

How to donate money, clothes and other items

Discussions on various Swiss forums, including on one managed by The Local, are focusing on how to help people in Ukraine.

Most have suggested donating money through the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) or other credible aid organisations in Switzerland.

The Swiss Refugee Council can be contacted here, while community legal centres such as this one in Zurich have asked for financial support to allow them to provide advice and assistance to arriving refugees. 

Ukrainian community organisations in Basel and Bern, groups have been created to collect medical and other donations to bring to Ukraine. Click the links for more information. 

On Monday, February 28th, The Local set up a fund for media in Ukraine, understanding the threats they currently face. 

The Local is convinced that this solidarity with Ukraine is not just right but crucial, and thanks to the support of our members we are happy to be able to make a €20,000 donation to the fundraiser.

People across the globe have also embraced some novel ways of helping those in Ukraine, for instance by booking out their flats on AirBnB without staying, thereby providing them with a source of income. 

More information about The Local’s fundraising efforts is available at the following link. 

READ MORE: How you can help Ukrainian media 

Here’s how you can donate to help civilian population in Ukraine:

ICRC

Swiss Solidarity

SOS Children’s Villages

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POLITICS

Ukraine and allies lay foundations for reconstruction at Swiss conference

Allies of Ukraine meeting in Switzerland were due Tuesday to adopt a declaration spelling out the principles and priorities of rebuilding the war-shattered country, estimated to cost at least $750 billion.

Ukraine and allies lay foundations for reconstruction at Swiss conference

Leaders from dozens of countries, international organisations and businesses have been meeting in the southern Swiss city of Lugano under tight security since Monday, discussing the best path forward for reconstruction, even as Russia’s war continues to rage in Ukraine.

‘A beautiful country’: How Ukrainian refugees see Switzerland

Speaking on the first day of the Ukraine Recovery Conference, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and a long line of government ministers described the massive destruction caused by Russia’s February 24 invasion.

“Reconstruction of Ukraine is not a local task of a single nation,” Zelensky said via video message. “It is a common task of the whole democratic world,” he said.

Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said the recovery “is already estimated at $750 billion”. “The key source of recovery should be the confiscated assets of Russia and Russian oligarchs,” he said.

“The Russian authorities unleashed this bloody war. They caused this massive destruction, and they should be held accountable for it”.

READ MORE: Switzerland extends sanctions against Russia over Ukraine invasion

The conference, which had been planned before the invasion, had originally been slated to discuss reforms in Ukraine before being repurposed to focus on recovery.

Shmyhal laid out the government’s phased reconstruction plan, focused first on the immediate needs of those affected by the war, followed by the financing of thousands of longer-term reconstruction projects aimed at making Ukraine European, green and digital.

Those priorities are expected to be reflected in a final Lugano Declaration setting out the general principles defining a framework for rebuilding Ukraine, which should be adopted when the conference wraps up around midday Tuesday.

As billions of dollars in aid flow into Ukraine, lingering concerns about widespread corruption in the country mean far-reaching reforms will also be seen as a condition for any recovery plan decided.

The former Soviet state has long been ranked among the world’s most corrupt countries by Transparency International.

In Europe, only Russia and Azerbaijan ranked worse.

The Ukrainians have proposed that allied countries “adopt” specific regions of Ukraine, and lead the recovery there to render it more efficient. Britain has proposed taking on the Kyiv region, while a diplomatic source said France would concentrate on the heavily-hit Chernihiv region.

Total Resistance: The Swiss Cold War manual inspiring Ukraine’s fight against Russia

In all, around 1,000 people are attending the conference, including European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who let out an enthusiastic “Slava Ukraini” (glory to Ukraine) after insisting on the importance of rebuilding a Ukraine better than before the war.

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