UKRAINIAN VILLAGE — Hundreds of people rallied in Ukrainian Village Thursday to support Ukraine’s sovereignty and call for a more robust response from Western governments against the ongoing Russian invasion.
Holding Ukrainian flags and signs that said “Stop Putin” and “Stop War,” protesters chanted “USA supports Ukraine” and sang songs in Ukrainian.
Priests from Saints Volodymyr and Olha and St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic churches, two longtime community anchors in the neighborhood , led the crowd in prayer and song.
Russian forces began invading Ukraine early Thursday, according to news reports. Russian troops were closing in on Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, by Thursday evening, according to the New York Times.
Chicago has one of the highest populations of Ukrainians in the U.S., with 100,000 living in the city and suburbs, and around 10,000 in Ukrainian Village, according to NPR.
Organizers of Thursday’s rally pressed for tougher sanctions on Russia, and encouraged people to contribute to humanitarian efforts for Ukraine citizens.
“Unleash the sanctions. Stop the war. Stop Russia’s economy today. There must be action by the United Nations. They must stop this Russian aggression. Remove Russia from the Security Council of United Nations,” said Pavlo Bandriwsky, vice president of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America Illinois Division.
“We need to have peace in Ukraine, and it can only happen with support from the West and from the United States of America.”
Speaking at the rally, U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley described the Russian invasion as “not just a Ukrainian problem” but a threat to democracy around the world.
“The reason I’m bringing all this up is not to diminish the horrors that our Ukrainian friends are experiencing, but to wake Americans up, that they must play a role. They must understand the sacrifices that will be involved, and that we need to give Ukraine all of the military assets they need for ultimate victory,” he said.
Many Ukrainian Americans who gathered Thursday described feelings of shock, confusion, anger and fear, especially for those who have family members living in Ukraine.
“We all thought that there was going to be a war, people in Ukraine I don’t think thought that. But when we heard it last night we were just calling one another, we couldn’t believe it. I mean, really, it was awful,” said Lydia Tkaczuk, president of the Ukrainian National Museum, 2249 W. Superior St.
Ukrainian Village residents and DePaul students Stepan Marchuk and Daniel Zablotskiy both have family in Ukraine. They said they missed class today to attend the rally.
“You can learn you can always learn things you missed in class, but I mean, moments like these, standing in solidarity together, it’s the minimum what we could do,” Marchuk said.
Zablotskiy’s mother, sister and brother are currently living in Ukraine, and he said his father is hoping to travel to the country to fight against the Russians.
“My dad this morning, he was like, ‘I’m going back.’ I’m like, ‘you absolutely have no way of getting there,’ he said. “My mom’s in Ukraine right now. … She called me and was like, ‘Hide you dad’s passport.’ I know my dad, he would.”
Marchuk said so far, he doesn’t feel like the Russian invasion is being recognized with enough urgency by the United States government or its residents.
“I feel like a lot of the information they’re getting, they’re just kind of brushing it off. And I feel like there needs to be more education and more information presented towards the American public of what actually is going on,” he said.
Nadiya Ilkiv, who has family in Western Ukraine, drove to the rally from her home in suburban Palatine. She said she had been “crying all night” since she heard the invasion had begun. She fears the war is just the beginning of a much larger conflict.
“Russia is very strong. Putin is crazy now. He’s going crazy. … He will not stop, he will go on to Europe,” she said. “If USA doesn’t help, I think it will be so bad.”
“American people must understand, Putin is like Hitler. This is not small war in Ukraine. He start from Ukraine, he going everywhere. If the United States doesn’t stop Putin, or he doesn’t die, it will be big war,” she said.
Jefferson Park resident Serge Malachuk, whose brothers and extended family live in Ukraine, said he’s been organizing online fundraisers for the Ukrainian Army in recent months. He’s also traveled to Washington, D.C. to lobby Congress to intervene in the conflict.
Malachuk said he’s also a firearms expert, and is considering traveling to Ukraine to train people there to defend themselves. He said he has friends fighting against the Russians right now.
“They’re soldiers there. I haven’t been able to speak with them. But yeah, they’re fighting right now, they’re resisting, and it looks like it’s going be like a long, long guerrilla warfare,” he said.
The war, Malachuk said, “is going to have repercussions globally, and Ukraine is on the front line right now. So Ukrainians are sacrificing their lives and soldiers there are brave and courageous and they are willing to die for their country.”
Another rally is planned for 1 p.m. Sunday outside Saints Volodymyr and Olha Ukrainian Catholic Church, 739 N. Oakley Blvd.
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