As I stepped off the A train at Port Authority Bus Terminal, I saw crowds of people adorn their jacket sleeves with blue-and-yellow bandanas. Exiting the station, people carried posters and sunflowers as they trekked towards 42nd Street, where Razom for Ukraine, a non-profit dedicated to “supporting the people of Ukraine in their continued quest for democracy and progress,” organized a protest this past February to demonstrate opposition to the war. Here, crowds of Ukrainian immigrants and allies flocked to the pavements of Times Square to stand in solidarity with one another. From men and women leading chants of Slava Ukraini! (Glory to Ukraine!), to groups of children with flowers in their hair, anyone watching would marvel at the level of unity and strength displayed by the protestors.
This is where I spotted Roman and Magdalena, a Ukrainian-Polish couple. Roman, who is originally from Kherson, a city in southern Ukraine, says pressuring local authorities is important.
“My city is being bombarded as we speak,” he said sorrowfully.
Since the protest two months ago, Kherson has been under Russian occupation. When asked about how Americans could support Ukranian efforts, Roman stated other countries need to stand in solidarity with war-torn Ukraine.
“Try to pressure the US government to impose more sanctions, cut Russia from Swift, put pressure on NATO to help us,” he urged. “I understand that people develop a lack of empathy just because a lot of stuff is going on in the world. You hear of Syria, you hear of all the conflicts, Hong Kong, Taiwan. When it doesn’t impact you directly it’s hard to relate to that, but at least [put] some pressure on local authorities.”
“And I would add to be very careful and verify all the media and information [you] are receiving because there’s a lot of fake ones,” Magdalena added, “To American people, make sure [you] are donating to the right places.”
Roman and Magdalena are just two of millions whose lives have been drastically uprooted by the war. According to the UNHCR, over 7.1 million Ukrainians have been displaced internally and more than 12 million people have been forced to flee the country. This has resulted in one of the worst refugee crises in history, one that has been particularly damaging to women & children, who make up 90% of the displaced. As a result, neighboring countries are struggling to keep up with the influx of Ukrainian refugees.
Tensions between Ukraine and Russia date back to the Soviet-era. Ukraine, formerly part of the Soviet Union, is being claimed by Russian President Vladimir Putin as part of Russia. Prior to the invasion, Putin stated that the Russian and Ukrainian peoples are “one people, a single whole.” Some argue that the rhetoric of “denazifying” Ukraine is being used to justify his invasion. As a result, major tragedies, such as the mass rapes and executions in Bucha, have occurred.
Russia’s attempt at grasping power over the country is not unfamiliar to Ukrainians. To control and suppress a national Ukrainian identity, leader of the Soviet Union Joseph Stalin imposed a “great famine” that led to millions of deaths. This explains Putin’s recent doctrine, making it important to recognize Ukraine’s sovereign identity and those of other former Soviet states, who fear they may be next.
At the closing of the protest, I decided to take a trip to Greenwich Village. The beginnings of another rally were already flickering. The protest, organized by queer Ukrainian groups in the city, stationed itself in front of the Stonewall Inn, a historic gay rights landmark. Given the Kremlin’s restrictive laws on LGBTQ+ peoples, which do not protect against discrimination and bar lesbian and gay individuals from serving in the military, it is unsurprising to see crowds of Ukrainians rally in fear of what the invasion means for queer rights in Ukraine. Underneath the pride flag planted on the face of the Inn is where I met Alexa Holynskyj, who comes from a Ukrainian background. Holynskyj spoke with me about the implications that LGBTQ+ Ukrainians face given the onset of the invasion.
“My family is Ukrainian-American and I’m second-generation, but I’m also a queer American, they said. “I’ve done research for my masters and for my work on vulnerable groups, and knowing how queer people have been treated in Russia and under the occupied territories of Luhansk and Donetsk, it will be detrimental to Ukraine and to all the queer Ukrainians.”