Peace Rally in Ukrainian Village

For some Chicago area residents, what’s happening in Ukraine is personal: They’ve got relatives suddenly living in a war zone.

Taras Slobodian moved to Chicago seven years ago but said most of his family is still in Ukraine. He spoke with his sister Thursday morning after Russia’s attack.

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“They saw the airplanes flying and the missiles flying. The kids woke up this morning because of the sounds of the explosion,” Slobodian said. “(Russian President Vladimir) Putin, he has problem with his head I guess.”

It’s cold in Chicago and in Kyiv, about 30 degrees give or take in both cities.

Even as he stood in the bitter weather for hours Thursday, waving a flag as he walked around the Ukrainian Village neighborhood and then attending a rally for Ukrainian sovereignty outside the Saints Volodymyr and Olha Ukrainian Catholic Church, Slobodian said won’t complain. Unlike what his family is going through back home, in Chicago he doesn’t fear bombs flying overhead.

Pavlo Bandriwsky, a leader with the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, says his ancestral homeland is an innocent, Democratic nation; a peaceful country that wants to live by the rule of law, and is instead getting slammed with Russian rockets. The country has suffered, and survived, Russian interference and atrocities before.

“Ukraine’s people have selected this future and they selected to live with the West. For centuries, Ukraine has lived under Moscow domination. They know what it’s like to live in Russia, to live with a Russian oppressor,” Bandriwsky said. “They chose not to accept that. They chose to live according to Western standards. Democracy. Freedom of speech. The right to have a great economic life, and a life for their children and families.”

For attacking that, he said Putin should be declared a war criminal. Ukraine will fight and resist, but he says it needs help from the United States and the United Nations.

“President (Joe) Biden promised hard-hitting sanctions. He said ‘cross the red line Putin, and we will make you pay,” Bandriwsky said. “How much more Ukrainian blood has to be shed to make them pay? Now is the time. Unleash the sanctions. Stop the war.”

One woman at the rally said she had awakened her Ukrainian relatives when she called early Thursday morning to make sure they were safe; they had still been sleeping when Russian missiles fired at the crack of dawn.

A couple of hundred people attended the rally, hastily organized following the attack. Among the speakers were representatives from the Ukrainian consulate who called for western nations to show solidarity by cutting off diplomatic ties with Russia and by coming forward with weapons.

The crowd sang the Ukrainian national anthem and other songs, prayed for peace and chanted “Stop Putin now.”

Anatolii Konovaliuk said how Western nations react is important.

“Because Putin act himself as (a) bully. And if bully get hit back, bully stop,” he said. “He don’t understand any reasons or logic. He just understand force. If he can get force back, he will stop.”

Konovaliuk and his wife also have family in Ukraine.

Nowhere in the country is safe; his parents filled their car with gas and a short time later, the area was hit by a bomb.

He said Ukrainians who are able will fight, and they won’t make it easy on the Russian military.

But he said it’s up to the West to stand up, and to make it difficult for Putin diplomatically and economically.

“People may think that something that’s happening far away … may be something they should not be worried about,” Konovaliuk said. “I had the same feeling in 2014 (when Russia invaded Crimea). I never thought that I would have war in my home. I never thought that I will need to worry about how I will protect my parents in the place where I grew up. I can say for sure that (the) world will never be the same if Western leaders and all world will not fight back on Russia.”

Konovaliuk said Americans can help by calling their Congressional representatives, to pressure them to put pressure on Russia.

Another rally in support of Ukrainian sovereignty is scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday outside St. Volodymyr. Supporters are encouraged to contribute to humanitarian efforts.     

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky

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