Finland has been neutral for decades, but growing NATO membership has angered neighboring Russia.
This weekend, Moscow warned of “political and military consequences” if Finland signed off on a military pact, while Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said Russian President Vladimir Putin had taken off his mask and showed the cold face of war.
“I hope that in this meeting and discussion we can strengthen the relationship,” Niinisto said during a meeting with US President Joe Biden on March 4 to discuss defense and ongoing sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.
Fear of invasion in Finland spurred a dramatic increase in the population’s support for NATO membership.
Two citizens who spoke to CTV News said they had gathered 50,000 signatures asking for a selection review, meaning the government will have to debate the issue.
There have also been numerous anti-Putin demonstrations in Helsinki, a seismic one in a country that shares a 1,340km border with Russia, and which for decades share a common business and cultural relationship.
Eilina Gusatinsky, who was born in Moscow to a Finnish mother, runs a foundation in Finland that helps Russian-speaking people – and there are many of them. According to Statistics Finland, the largest group of foreign language speakers in Finland are Russian speakers.
“I hope the world understands,” she said.
Now, she has opened the door to Ukrainian refugees in her homeland. One of them is Polina, 13 years old, away from her schoolmates and away from life for the first time.
“I am grateful that I am here, but I really hope that I will return to my home,” she said.
Her mother Hannah said that she would kiss the ground when she returned to Ukraine.
“Wherever you are, Ukraine is here,” she said, touching her chest. “It’s your identity.”
But now she is also comforted by the support of many in Finland, saying she never expected it.
“The fact that the Ukrainian flag is flown over the central station in Helsinki, it’s just amazing, unbelievable, it really gives you hope,” she said.
The Finnish government has said it will look very closely at NATO and that any move now needs to be carefully calculated.
With files from Alexandra Mae Jones of CTVNews.ca