Dozens of signs with messages such as “We Stand With Ukraine” and “No War” could be spotted alongside the yellow and blue hues of Ukraine’s flag on the University of Michigan Diag, where over a hundred people gathered Saturday afternoon to show support for Ukraine and its people amid an ongoing invasion by the Russian military.
The “Stand with Ukraine” vigil and rally featured six speakers, including U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., and Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor. In between remarks, the crowd recited chants such as “Слава Україні,” a Ukrainian national salute meaning “Glory to Ukraine.”
Social Work lecturer Carrie Rheingans opened by thanking attendees and calling for a moment of silence to honor the lives lost in the ongoing invasion.
Dingell said she wants to see the United States impose strong sanctions against Russia and condemned those in the U.S. who have expressed support for Russian President Vladimir Putin in the wake of the attack.
“I do believe we need to take stronger sanctions,” Dingell said. “I want us to do everything we can to help the people of Ukraine right now, but if the situation escalates, the president must seek congressional approval pursuant to the War Powers Resolution before any U.S. troops deploy into areas of situation where there is an imminent risk of hostilities.”
Dingell went on to praise Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for his leadership despite being “Putin’s number-one enemy.”
“(Zelensky) is a hero,” Dingell said. “He is an example of those that believe in their countries … and (are) fighting for the people that (they) represent. His leadership is giving strength to so many in Ukraine.”
Mayor Taylor followed by saying Ann Arbor will welcome any and all Ukrainian refugees just as it welcomes migrants from a myriad of backgrounds.
“Just as we regularly welcome immigrants and refugees from all corners of the globe in the weeks to come, we particularly welcome the immigrants and refugees from Ukraine who make it to our corner of the world,” Taylor said. “They will have a home here, honored and always.”
One attendee held a sign reading “Russians are against war in Ukraine.” Over the past few days, thousands have gathered across multiple Russian cities to protest the invasion, resulting in the arrests of hundreds of demonstrators.
Rackham student Egor Korneev, who is Russian, said he attended the event to show support for the people of Ukraine, adding that many Russian citizens are afraid to act publicly for fear of retribution by the Russian government.
“Killing other people never brings peace, and that’s why I try to support Ukrainians,” Korneev said. “I really hope that the war will end as soon as possible. Ukrainians have the right to live as they want … Many Russians are really afraid of (publicly opposing the war), but many of us share the view that peace should be brought to Ukraine.”
Taylor also acknowledged the presence of Russian members of the Ann Arbor community and their support for Ukraine.
“It’s important that we acknowledge and support Ann Arborites who are from Russia,” Taylor said. “You are not to blame for this … Thank you for standing up for what is right. Thank you for helping and standing up to support the people of Ukraine.”
U-M alum Natalia Kujan Gentry, Ukrainian-American attorney and former president of the University’s Ukrainian Students’ Club, spoke about the cultural suppression Ukraine faced under Russian occupation and shared stories from her family that narrated life under Soviet rule. She emphasized the importance of combating misinformation with storytelling.
“These are the stories that we must tell,” Gentry said. “We must grab a hold of the narrative, and we must control (it). Our only weapon against misinformation is anecdotal storytelling.”
Mykola Murskyj, chairman of the Ukrainian-American Crisis Response Committee of Michigan, said he was concerned about his friends and family and Ukrainian statehood, but said he had faith Ukraine would come out victorious.
“But I know for a fact that Vladimir Putin cannot win,” Murskyj said. “The insurgency that he will face will be bloody, it’ll be the worst in history. There is no way that the Russian leadership can continue to oppress the Ukrainian people. There’s no way that Vladimir Putin’s gonna win. It’s not gonna happen.”
Ann Arbor resident Vlada Zviagina, who is Ukrainian, spoke to the crowd about how Ann Arbor residents could help support Ukrainian citizens, such as donating to trusted humanitarian funds.
“(There are) at least three things that you can do: sign petitions, call your elected officials and donate to the cause,” Zviagina said.