At rally, vigil: ‘Glory to Ukraine’

Martha Sanchez, News Editor

They came in blue and yellow — their ribbons, their soccer jerseys, their dyed hair. They wore shirts that read “stop the war.” Some draped themselves in their suffering nation’s flag. 

One man came in mourning black. 

Many held each other in long embrace. 

In pain and determination, native Ukrainians and supporters gathered near sunset on the steps of McAlister Auditorium Friday evening to plead for peace in Ukraine and honor the fallen. 

“It’s incredibly painful to share these stories,” Oleksandr Orak, the event’s organizer, a Ukraine native and graduate student at Tulane University said. But it is important, “because we don’t have a privilege of looking away.” 

Orak’s organization, Kryla, is working to bring aid and medical supplies to Ukraine as the country endures its third month of Russian attacks. Friday’s rally of around 50 people was the latest of fundraising events the group has organized, like last month’s gathering in Lafayette Square. 

Many of the speakers touched on the severity of the war, hoping to keep attention on humanitarian efforts as the shock of the initial Russian invasion fades. 

Edward Hayes, honorary consul to Ukraine for Louisiana and professor at Tulane Law, said the war is part of a long pattern of Russia treating Ukrainians as “disposable people.”

“And we need to understand it, we need to recognize it, and we need to do something about it,” he said. 

Anton Popiy, another speaker and graduate student in the A. B. Freeman School of Business, rescued his mother and sister from the Ukrainian city of Mariupol last week. 

“The situation with the city is the darkest of hells,” he said. 

They are now safe in New Orleans. His speech recounted childhood memories of watching the 9/11 attacks with his mother through her tears and determination to help. 

But now, in some Ukrainian cities like Mariupol, he said,  “9/11 happens every day.”

Most people at the rally were families and those connected to Ukraine. A few passing students stopped to watch. 

But Yvette Burcescu, a graduate student in the business school, came to support her classmate who spoke at the event. 

She said watching the war is terrible, and it is even harder to know people are here, continuing with their everyday lives. 

“I think it’s really important to have events like this and spread that awareness so that all the students can get engaged and be aware of what’s going on,” she said. 

The rally turned to a vigil near the end of the evening. Svitlana Baranivska, a Metairie accountant, led a ceremony honoring Ukraine’s female victims of Russian violence. Eight women stood behind her, holding signs stamped with red handprints. 

“It is hard to imagine what they have been through and what lies ahead,” she said through tears. “Ukrainians are strong and resilient but that doesn’t mean we don’t need help.” 

Anna Kushnir, a University of New Orleans graduate and local activist, said her loved ones in Ukraine are always glad to hear of support rallies around the world. 

“They’re so happy that people come out and actually speak up about this,” she said. 

And she said rallies are a good place to come for students who want to help. 

“They can start donating, they can start speaking up,” she said. When they see a rally, “they should not just walk by.” 

The vigil ended in a moment of silence. 

Afterwards, people mingled in small groups, reconnecting with friends and enjoying the community. Many spoke to each other in Ukrainian. 

And as volunteers folded tables and took down Ukrainian flags, a student passed a group of women talking. 

Slava Ukraini,” he said, repeating the rallying cry that means “glory to Ukraine.” 

The women stopped, and in unison, called back: “Slava Ukraini.”

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