Protestors at State House condemn Ukraine invasion

Pro-Ukraine+demonstrators+at+the+Massachusetts+State+House+on+Thursday

Photo: Adri Pray

Pro-Ukraine demonstrators at the Massachusetts State House on Thursday

By Adri Pray, Assistant Express News Editor

A throng of people donned in blue and yellow gathered at the steps of the Massachusetts State House on Thursday, protesting the invasion of Ukraine launched by Russia just hours earlier.

The crowd waved blue-gold Ukrainian flags and held signs reading “United with Ukraine” and “U.S.A. Supports Ukraine,” condemning the military action over 4,500 miles away. Many of the demonstrators—though not all—were of Ukrainian descent, having woken up to the news that Russia bombed a number of Ukrainian cities overnight, including the capital of Kyiv.

Among the crowd in front of the Massachusetts State House, Julia Kotlinska stood with the Ukrainian flag wrapped around her, matching the friends she had come with, she told The Beacon in an interview.

“[My friends and I are here] trying to get the attention of America, and other countries, which could help Ukraine to fight against Russia,” she said. “I’m also here taking videos and pictures and posting them on my social media profiles, just because most of my friends are [still] there—they are from Ukraine. I want them to know that they are not alone.”

Kotlinska was born and raised in Ukraine, but moved to the U.S. in more recent years. Her friends and family still reside in the country, even as thousands of citizens try to flee the oncoming Russian military.

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“Everything that happened a month ago, a few weeks ago and few hours ago was the most terrible for my country,” she said. 

Kotlinska said that she, like most Ukrainians living abroad, found it hard to watch the fall of her country from thousands of miles away.

“It’s very difficult for us,” she said. “We cannot help them. We cannot hug them and say that everything will be good for them.”

Kotlinska’s family resides in the country’s western Khmelnytskyi Oblast region—just kilometers away from a warehouse targeted by Russian bombs early Thursday morning.

“[My family] stayed and hoped the Ukrainian Army could fight against [the Russian invaders],” Kotlinska said. “They’re crying because they are powerless. They are my family, my friends. They are older and don’t have enough power to take cannons and fight against the Russian military.”

However, she added that shows of solidarity like the protest were important.

“At least [those in Ukraine] know they’re not alone,” she said. 

Sarah Garibova, a demonstrator and professor at Boston University, traveled to Ukraine in 2014 to conduct research for her doctoral studies. Her visit came on the heels of the Russian annexation of the Crimean peninsula, a region home to thousands of Russian-speakers but which, until then, had been under Ukrainian sovereignty.

“2014 was a very powerful turning point in history,” she said. “There was a revolution, and I was in the country in the aftermath of that. I saw this vibrant country trying so hard for democracy, trying to fight for democratic values and turn towards what it felt were its allies in the West.”

The Russo-Ukrainian conflict, brewing since the invasion of Crimea, was reignited when Russia placed several thousand troops at the Ukrainian border last April. The move preceded a demand from Russian President Vladimir Putin that NATO bar Ukraine from membership, and withdraw its forces from Romania and the Baltic states.

On Monday, Putin recognized the independence of two Russian-backed breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine and moved troops to both territories to “peacekeep.” The U.S., U.K, and European Union have since enacted broad sanctions to target the Russian economy.

The crowd, however, called for more meaningful U.S. action.

“I hope to encourage the government of the United States to take action—meaningful sanctions that will actually have an impact on stability in Russia,” Garibova said. “I hope this will pass, and that Ukraine can continue to be a free and independent and democratic country.”