With a Russian invasion unfolding in Ukraine, local Ukrainians and their supporters gathered at the Massachusetts State House Thursday to voice their grief — and their outrage.
Hundreds of protesters held up Ukraine's yellow and blue flags, calling for support for the nation with signs to “Stop Russian aggression” and “Stand with Ukraine.” Russia invaded Ukraine Wednesday night after months of amassing troops on its border. Many standing outside the State House shared personal stories about family members in Ukraine and other Eastern European countries, and how torn and helpless they felt in the face of the incursion.
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Iryna Piotrowska works for an IT company in Cambridge. But her family is back home in Lutsk, in Western Ukraine.
"My dad, who is an older person, he was asked to join the army today, and I'm very afraid that this would happen," she said, tearing up. "I hope that other countries will come together and support Ukraine in this, you know, in this historic moment, because it's just so unjust."
As the tensions increased recently, Piotrowska said she tried to convince her family to leave and stay with relatives in Poland.
"But they just said no, that they will not leave because, you know, this is their home, why they will leave that home?" she said. "And my dad, he went to this meeting today because he knows it's his country and he will fight for it."
Slavko Oleinik came to Boston from Ukraine in 1993. His family and his career are here in the United States.
"It's difficult for me because I know that I am technically capable to — and willing and ready to stand and fight the war," he said. "But I have to be here.”
But even from Boston, he says there are other ways he can help.
"Money always helps because they will need supplies," Oleinik said. "That's one thing I can do, and many, many Ukrainians in our community are doing just that.”
Standing in the crowd holding a sign that simply said "Against the war in Ukraine" was Nadia Vikulina, a Russian graduate student at Harvard.
"I am absolutely heartbroken and terrified by the actions of Russian government and the decision to invade Ukraine," she said.
Vikulina said she felt the need to be at the protest, and that she's not alone in how she feels.
"A lot of Russians feel this way. A lot of my friends, a lot of people on my timeline, a lot of my acquaintances are against war," she said. "Nobody wants this war and we don't need it."
Ukranian flags covered the plaza in front of the State House. But there was also a Lithuanian flag. Karolis Kaupinis is one of the men holding it. He's a film director visiting from Lithuania, in town to premiere his new movie at the Boston Baltic Film Festival. He's worried about his country's immediate future.
"We just know that we are next," he said. "That's always according to the same playbook. So it's just a matter of time, if nothing is being done to stop that."
Julia Kotlinska runs a small coffee shop in South Boston called the Esthetic Bean. But she closed it to be here at the protest.
"This is not the moment when I should be open. I just don't have a power to work today. I'm just in stress," she said. "The whole morning has been talking to all my family — to my brothers, cousins."
It's hard, she said, not to be able to hug her family back in Ukraine.
"I'm calling to them and saying, 'Everything will be fine. America, all countries of the world, they are against the war. Even Russian people, they are against the war,'" Kotlinska said. "But you know, just my words, my words of support to them, they are not going to change anything."
Standing on the State House steps, she and hundreds of protesters joined in singing the Ukrainian national anthem. Its title, roughly translated, is “Ukraine Has Not Yet Perished.”