NEW YORK - Hundreds of protesters gathered in New York’s Times Square to call for peace in Ukraine on Saturday as Russia continued its military invasion of the country.
Many attendees were waving Ukrainian flags or draped the flag around their shoulders at the afternoon demonstration.
Others brought signs decrying Russian President Vladimir Putin or calling for a no-fly zone to be imposed over Ukraine.
About 140,000 people of Ukrainian descent live in New York, making it the largest Ukrainian population in the U.S., according to population data from the federal government.
Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Saturday that he would regard any no-fly zone as an act of war.
Putin also said that Ukrainian statehood is in jeopardy and likened the West's sanctions on Russia to "declaring war," while a promised cease-fire in the port city of Mariupol collapsed amid scenes of terror in the besieged town.
With the Kremlin’s rhetoric growing fiercer and a reprieve from fighting dissolving, Russian troops continued to shell encircled cities and the number of Ukrainians forced from their country grew to 1.4 million.
Bereft mothers mourned slain children, wounded soldiers were fitted with tourniquets and doctors worked by the light of their cellphones as bleakness and desperation pervaded. Putin continued to pin the blame for all of it squarely on the Ukrainian leadership and slammed their resistance to the invasion.
"If they continue to do what they are doing, they are calling into question the future of Ukrainian statehood," he said. "And if this happens, it will be entirely on their conscience."
He also hit out at Western sanctions that have crippled Russia's economy and sent the value of its currency tumbling.
"These sanctions that are being imposed, they are akin to declaring war," he said during a televised meeting with flight attendants from Russian airline Aeroflot. "But thank God, we haven’t got there yet."