On Sunday, Feb. 27, more than a thousand people gathered at Saints Volodymyr and Olha Ukrainian Catholic Church in Chicago to rally in support of Ukraine. Some attendees wrapped themselves in Ukrainian flags while others waved blue and yellow posters and wore crowns full of sunflowers, Ukraine’s national flower. The crowd chanted, “Close the sky! Close the sky!”
Among the participants of the protest were Illinois Governor J. B. Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, as well as Illinois state representatives and Ukrainian dignitaries.
Mayor Lightfoot showed her support for the Ukrainian population in Chicago and said that Ukrainians have been part of the city’s fabric since its earliest days.
“We must urge a federal immigration authority to provide temporary protective status for Ukrainians who may be in Chicago and to open up our borders to Ukrainians who want to come here for freedom,” Lightfoot said.
More than 160,000 Ukrainians have been displaced internally and 116,000 more have been forced to flee into other European countries since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began on Thursday, Feb. 24, according to a United Nations report. Hundreds of thousands of people have been left without water and electricity due to infrastructure damage.
Northwestern professor Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern told the crowd that while he was speaking, his mother was spending the night in Kyiv, Ukraine.
“She was 6 years old when she saw the bombing of Kyiv in 1941 by the Nazis,” he said. “She’s 87 years old and she witnesses the bombing of Kyiv by the Russian force.”
Harper Veresiuk was born in Vinnytsia, Ukraine, but moved to Chicago when she was 6 years old. Her brother, his wife and their two sons had to flee Kyiv on Feb. 24; they are currently in Vinnytsia with Veresiuk’s aunt.
“My brother has to turn the lights off when the sirens start so that the Russians don’t bomb them,” Veresiuk said. “He tells the kids that they are playing a game and that turning the lights off is part of it. The kids are not oblivious to what is going on, but they aren’t being told that there are people dying next to them. They’re only 3 and 5 years old.”
Veresiuk said that she was recently on the phone playing the game with her nephews.
Dmytro Petruk, originally from Kyiv, held a megaphone as he traversed the rally. Whenever there was silence, he held the megaphone in the air and shouted, “USA supports Ukraine! USA supports Ukraine!” The crowd echoed his chants.
“At the beginning of the war, on Thursday, I went to the Daley Plaza alone at midnight and started yelling that Russia had started a war with Ukraine,” he said. “I screamed for one hour, trying to explain what was going on to people that were there.”
Now, Petruk is organizing different protests and gathering donations to send to Ukraine through social media and his friends.
“I am just trying to inform the people,” he said. “I created a map yesterday for everyone to know where all the protests today will be.”
Ukrainians were not the only ones present at the rally – Chicago’s international community stood in support of Ukraine.
Suphisara Yindeewong is an exchange student from Thailand at Von Steuben Metropolitan High School. She held a yellow poster that read “Thai Support Ukraine” as she walked around the rally at the Ukrainian Village.
“I’m here because where I’m from, we also have problems like these going on,” Yindeewong said. “I wanted to stand with a country that goes through the same things that we do.”
Weinberg third-year Salome Khelashvili said that one of the biggest reasons why she attended the protest was because she is Georgian, and Russia’s attacks on Ukraine are similar to Russia’s attacks on Georgia in 2008.
“There’s definitely an emotional connection to this,” Khelashvili said. “I’ve been in contact with my family in Georgia and everyone’s just super stressed and scared. Besides that, I think what’s happening in Ukraine right now is horrifying, and my family and I just wanted to do as much as we can to help.”
President of the Illinois division of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America Dan Ihor Diaczun also spoke at the rally.
“What Putin didn’t count on was the resolve and the will of the Ukrainian people,” he said. “Not only to resist, but to fight and fight hard.”
All photos by Antonia Mufarech / North by Northwestern. Photo slideshow developed by Nathanial Ortiz.