By Nini Mtchedlishvili
Boston University News Service
Thousands of people gathered on Sunday at Boston Public Garden in a show of solidarity for war-struck Ukraine. The crowd, donning yellow and blue to symbolize the Ukrainian flag, marched down Newbury and Boylston streets chanting slogans and raising anti-war placards.
Diana Zlotnikova, a senior at Northeastern University and one of the protest organizers, said she could not imagine that the idea would receive this much resonance.
“I was hoping for seventy people to come to the protest,” said Zlotnikova. “But people started spreading the news themselves and, as Boston Police told me, around 5,000 supporters arrived.”
The crowd chanted “Glory to Ukraine, glory to heroes” and “close the sky,” requesting NATO to close the Ukrainian airspace to protect civilians from Russian air attacks.
In this time of war, when the Russian propaganda successfully manipulates the information and spreads it through various social media platforms and news sources, the rally aimed to tell the truth about the people suffering in Ukraine under the Russian military aggression and invading forces.
“The moment we forget about this war, it will be a turning point for all of us,” said Zlotnikova. “War in Ukraine is not only my nation’s tragedy. This will have a tremendous impact on the whole of Europe and geopolitics.”
Among the crowd was Kateryna Ciccarelli, a Ukrainian researcher at Harvard University whose family and friends are back in Ukraine. She said that the international community should be more vocal and support the people fighting alone.
“My close family is safe, and they are sheltering some of the refugees from Kharkiv and Kyiv while taking others to the Polish border,” said Ciccarelli. “But most of my friends did not have a chance to leave Kyiv, and they are stuck in the subway stations. Their voices need to be heard.”
Although the war started on Feb. 24 at around 5 a.m., Russia had begun preparing for the invasion earlier.
On Dec. 27, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the ultranationalist leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, told the Russian Parliament, Duma, that the military campaign would be executed“ at 4 a.m. on Feb. 22.” “You [Ukrainians] will feel our new policy,” said Zhirinovsky.
Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko opened the Belarusian border to the Russian troops for joint military training at the beginning of February. The Kremlin had repeatedly denied the intention of invading Ukraine, but as the world witnessed, Russia has been using the Belarusian border as a campsite since last Wednesday while their troops marched into Ukraine.
Nikolai Makaranka, a Belarusian and Boston University alumnus, was among the rally participants. He said the Belarusians around him do not consider Lukashenko a president, as his authoritarian regime has constantly violated the Belarusian constitution.
“Russia currently occupies Belarus, and people feel occupied as well,” said Makaranka. “People are devastated as we have become a part of this war. According to our constitution, we should be a neutral country, but it does not interest Lukashenko.”
The Kremlin strategy to take over Ukraine overnight did not work as Ukrainian soldiers and civilians put up a stiff resistance.
Zlotnikova said her friend joined a so-called civilian “anti-terrorist group” to detect the traitors among the Ukrainians.
“Most of the city signs have been removed, but there are people who paint the figures on the ground or the walls so that Russian occupiers can get the directions,” said Zlotnikova. “The members of this Ukrainian civil union are patrolling to detect these marks and people who do not speak Ukrainian or behave suspiciously.”
Participants cheered for the courage of the Ukrainians at the rally, but everyone agreed the people of Ukraine need more significant support. Zlotnikova named a few ways to help the soldiers, children, and elderly fleeing the cities.
“People should continue spreading the news,” said Zlotnikova. “But supporting verified charities is also very important. Especially when people can choose whether their donations go to medicine, clothes, or food supplies.”
Countries around the world banned Russian banks from SWIFT, closed international flights, and froze billion dollars worth of assets. Private companies imposed sanctions and withdrew from the Russian markets, inflicting economic bruises. Many countries also supplied weapons to Ukraine as it enters the seventh day of the war.
Natasha Rybak, another rally participant, said strong support from world leaders is crucial for Ukraine.
“Standing with Ukraine today, is one way of solidarity,” said Rybak. “However, these sanctions are not enough, and they [world leaders] need to completely shut down Russia by cutting all of their resources and connections with the rest of the world.”