LSA professor Svitlana Rogovyk speaks to U of M community members outside Burton Memorial Tower for a “Vigil for Ukrainian War Victims” Wednesday night. Maria Deckmann/Daily. Buy this photo.

As the blue and yellow of Ukraine fluttered in the wind on a Wednesday night, many gathered at the vigil for war victims hosted by members of the Ukrainian community, along with members of the Diversity Affairs Committee (DAC) of the LSA Student Government, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

Accompanied by traditional and contemporary Ukrainian music which highlighted the Ukrainians’ strength, speakers mourned for the lives lost in Ukraine and urged people to take action for the state in crisis. 

Speakers included students, faculty and community members from Ukraine as well as others in solidarity with Ukraine. Most speakers spoke about their friends’ and families’ experience with the war and how it has affected them personally. They advocated for corporate divestment from the Russian state. The group also asked audience members to write letters to local officials to create a “no-fly zone” over Ukraine skies.

Speakers included Ukrainian language professors and professors who have worked with Ukrainians. They said the Ukrainians they worked with made a choice to stay in Ukraine and were determined to continue fighting for both Ukraine and Eastern Europe as a whole.

Ann Arbor resident Vlada Zviagina, said she has family and friends who live in Kharkiv, a city in Ukraine devastated by and is worried about the danger which could befall her loved ones at any time.

“My parents have just escaped from Kharkiv, … the city that probably had the most severe damage from the Russian invasion,” Zviagina said. “Immediate life threat to my family and my friends is what brings me here.”

Especially with increased Russian propaganda and misinformation about the Ukrainian invasion, Zviagina said events like the vigil are important and provide a space for the speakers to share their truths.

“I hope (attendees) will take away some truth, some first-hand information,” Zviagina said. “Many Ukrainians come here to share the story of their families who are (in Ukraine) right now. And if there is anyone who can tell you the truth, it’s the people who see it with their own eyes, and ones who talk to those people.”

She said the mainstream media has made repeated calls to action regarding Ukraine to a point where the issue has lost some meaning to people.

“These things have been said so many times already, they start to turn into informational noise,” Zviagina said. “What we are trying to achieve here is to not let (the conflict) turn into some news they see on (peoples’)feed, not something they read but knowing that it is actually next to them; Ukrainian people are here, they go to the same university, they study in the same classrooms, they work at the same laboratories.” 

Even though the battlefield is halfway across the world, the impact of the war has global impacts, Zviagina said. 

“People are affected by this war, who feel stressed, who feel depressed and who suffer from this war, not only physically, but also people who are here are affected as well,” Zviagina said.

Rackham student Oksana Briukhovetska also has family and friends in Ukraine. Briukhovetska said her parents were directly under Russian shelling every night and said she is extremely stressed for the safety of her family. 

“I have many friends who are still in Kyiv who post their visceral reactions,” Briukhovetska said.  “They (have posted) what they feel from the first day, so I follow this very closely and sometimes it’s very, very hard. I don’t have words for this horror, and I never believed that this can happen to this many people.”

Briukhovetska said she supports the Ukrainian people for upholding their values of democracy even in times of crisis.

“I think this example of brave people who are fighting for themselves and for their rights for democracy is an example for the whole world,” Briukhovestka said.

An artist, curator and feminist activist, Briukhovestka started organizing exhibitions and public events when she was back in Ukraine. She participated in the Orange and Maidan Revolutions, with her activism spanning nearly two decades. During the vigil, Briukhovetska wore a quilt inspired by the Ukrainian flag and said one of her principal goals was to spread awareness through her art.

“I finished (the quilt) just before this event started and I also organized the First Streetfirst street actions here in Ann Arbor on Saturday,” Briukhovetska said. “I designed and printed posters, (so I could) to talk to people and tell people here to not forget about this.”

Briukhovetska also participated in many other campaigns in support of Ukraine, including a solidarity rally on Sunday in Detroit and two other protests in Ann Arbor. She said she highly values action like the vigil because she believes people need to get the latest information from the people who know Ukraine best.

“I think this is very important to remind people every day and to bring information because the situation three days ago does not hold up now,” Briukhovetska said. “These testimonials and feelings that we share are also very important to (garner) support from people who are not Ukrainians.”

Rackham student Mike Mei is a member of the Hong Kong human rights concern group at the University. Mei said many of the same values — such as free elections and democracy — that he supports in his group should be extended to the Ukraine crisis as well.

“We support values, democratic self-determination, peace and resisting authoritarian bullies,” Mei said. “And we just can’t watch Ukraine go down this road.” 

Mei said he came to the event because he cares deeply about the war and wanted to be in solidarity with his Ukrainian friends.

“My heart breaks for the Ukrainian people,” Mei said. “I came here to be in solidarity with some of my friends; I have some Ukrainian friends in my department. I want to hear their stories. I just wanted to be here for them.” 

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