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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

‘Ukrainian people don’t give up hope’: US rallies express solidarity

Demonstrators against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in Washington, Feb. 27, 2022. Bearing blue and yellow Ukrainian flags, singing patriotic songs and shouting chants against Russia’s president, thousands of protesters gathered at rallies across the country on Sunday in a show of support for Ukraine.

By Madeleine Ngo, Robert Chiarito, Joel Wolfram, Matt Berg and Eric Adelson

Bearing blue and yellow Ukrainian flags, singing patriotic songs and shouting chants against Russia’s president, thousands of protesters gathered at rallies across the country Sunday in a show of support for Ukraine.

In Washington, Chicago, Boston and other cities, the crowds varied in size, but the number of gatherings, which followed several others Saturday and came days after President Vladimir Putin of Russia ordered troops to invade Ukraine, spoke to the level of concern in communities throughout the nation.

Many attendees expressed their love for their Ukrainian homeland. Some argued for more U.S. involvement in the conflict. Some vented their anger and called for harsher penalties against Putin. Other protesters wanted to make sure that the public’s awareness of the war didn’t fade.

Outside the White House on Sunday, a large crowd of people gathered to urge President Joe Biden to escalate his punishment of Russia and show more support for Ukraine.

Maryna Baydyuk, president of United Help Ukraine, a group that helped set up the rally, said Sunday’s event was the largest protest the organizers had seen since they started holding daily rallies after the Russian invasion.

The scene in Lafayette Square, a nearby park, was one of solidarity and resistance as many attendees said they were fearful for their relatives and friends in Ukraine but felt a renewed sense of hope as more countries have ramped up support for the country. Holding up Ukrainian flags, some chanted “Putin is a war criminal!” and “NATO close the skies,” referring to a call to create a no-fly zone over Ukraine. Others wrapped themselves in the Ukrainian flag and carried signs that urged Biden that “you can still stop war.”

Irene Griffin, a 47-year-old Ukrainian American who drove to the rally from Lorton, Virginia, with her husband and two children, stood in front of the White House fence holding small American and Ukrainian flags. She said she wanted the Biden administration to impose harsher sanctions against Russia and send more financial aid to Ukraine. Her grandparents fled Ukraine in 1945 during World War II before arriving in the United States three years later.

Although she said she was worried for her roughly 80 family members in Lviv, a city in western Ukraine, Griffin said she was excited to see other countries like the United Kingdom and France step up their support in recent days.

“I’m very hopeful,” Griffin said. “Ukrainian people don’t give up hope.”

In Chicago, a large crowd gathered Sunday afternoon on the steps of Saints Volodymyr and Olha Ukrainian Catholic Church, one of five Ukrainian churches within walking distance of one another in the city’s Ukrainian Village neighborhood.

Liliya Galko, a 32-year-old registered nurse who was born in Ukraine, said she was “devastated.”

“My family is out there. They’re fighting, they don’t want to evacuate,” Galko said. “For us, it feels like there’s nothing we can do. Right now, it’s just raising awareness and donating money.”

Throughout the rally, supporters often shouted “Glory to Ukraine” in Ukrainian. They also chanted “Save Ukraine,” “USA help Ukraine” and “Stop Russian aggression.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois and Mayor Lori Lightfoot of Chicago also addressed the crowd and voiced their support for Ukraine. They were joined by three members of Congress: Danny Davis, Mike Quigley and Raja Krishnamoorthi.

Davis, whose district includes the Ukrainian Village, told the crowd that he had studied Russian history and said that, “Freedom is hard won, and every generation has to win it and win it again.”

In Philadelphia, several hundred demonstrators gathered on Independence Mall. As a stiff, cold wind rippled the banners of huddled protesters, women sang patriotic songs next to Ukrainian clergymen wearing long black robes.

Borys Gudziak, archbishop metropolitan for the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, who recently returned from Ukraine, addressed the crowd and called on the governments of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania to supply military equipment to volunteer fighters in Ukraine.

Although the ranks of Ukrainian citizens fighting Russian forces were growing, he said, they were badly outnumbered and in need of resources. He urged the city and state to provide “10,000 helmets and 10,000 bulletproof vests for citizens who are coming out on the front line to defend Europe and the world.”

Yuliya Stupen, 27, sang the Ukrainian national anthem. “It’s something I think every Ukrainian learns as soon as they probably learned how to speak,” she said. The title of the song translates to “Ukraine has not perished,” she said. “I saw the tears in people’s eyes as I was singing.”

Diana Zlotnikova, a senior at Northeastern University, organized a peace march in Boston that began in the Boston Public Garden. It was initially supposed to include only local college students. But as the conflict in Ukraine continued to rage, the number of people who expressed interest grew exponentially, she said. Sunday’s attendance was believed to be at least several hundred.

In the past two days, Zlotnikova said, she spoke to more Ukrainian people in Boston than she ever has before.

“The whole point of the march is to feel union and show union, demonstrate that we’re strong, we’re together, that we’re going to be OK,” she said before the rally.

In the morning, she was on the phone with her mother in Ukraine, overhearing the sound of air-raid sirens. It was time for her mother and father, along with the dozens of fellow Ukrainians they were hosting at their home outside Kyiv, to seek safety in a shelter. “We have no idea what’s going to happen,” Zlotnikova said.

During the event, during which dozens of people held sunflowers, Ukraine’s national flower, organizers spoke out for compassion and peace despite what they said was a cruel, inhumane attack from Russia.

“The evil hearts of those who initiated this are poisoned with hatred,” one organizer said. “But hate will always lose to love.”

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