ITHACA, N.Y.—A few dozen people braved the cold on Saturday afternoon for a public show of support to Ukraine as Russia’s invasion of the country threatens to throw the world into bloody turmoil.

Gathered on Ho Plaza at Cornell University, the group played the Ukrainian national anthem on a loop, holding signs calling for peace and a firm reaction by other countries to Russian aggression and talking to passers-by about the situation. Tension had been brewing intensely for months, if not years, before Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the decision to invade the country last week. Hundreds have died on either side in the fighting so far.

The gathering was organized, primarily, by Ukrainian students on Cornell University’s campus. Olga Zimina, a post-doctoral associate at the school conducting research in plant biology, is from an area of the Ukraine west of Kyiv, the capital city. Zimina grew up in Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014 in one of the first tangible modern signs of Russia’s willingness to take Ukrainian land.

“This is a disaster,” Zimina said. “I’ve been emotional. We have an idea of war from 2014, but nobody had any idea it could be so dramatic and the whole country would be involved. I first heard about it on Facebook when it started, my friends were posting about hearing ‘thunder’ and feeling the heat of the airstrikes […] I called my family, I was very anxious. My whole body was shaking.”

Zimina said her mother and her husband are still in Ukraine, both hiding in shelters while the war rages on outside. Her husband was slated to visit in the coming weeks but it now seems unlikely he will be able to get out of the country in the near future.

Locally, Zimima isn’t sure how many Ukrainians are currently studying at Cornell, though she had help organizing the event from a few other students, graduate workers and professors. They were motivated by Cornell’s silence on the issue so far.

“We decided to organize this event because Cornell hasn’t said anything about the situation,” Zimima said. “They should make a statement. So we organized this to spread the information about [the war].”

Olga Zimima (right) and another protester on Saturday. (Photo by Matt Butler)

Whether or not the United States should become militarily involved in the war seems to be the next biggest question to answer, at least from a national perspective. President Joe Biden has so far seemed dedicated to keeping large groups of American troops out of another war across the world, with the international community ostensibly more comfortable to send weapons to Ukrainians and exact economic sanctions on Russia, Putin himself and other Russian oligarchs. Of course, there’s the potential direct military involvement could set off a nuclear war of some kind resulting in untold loss of human life.

“We already highly appreciate all the support from the US and Europe, they help us in many ways,” she said. “They help with weapons, with sanctions. It would be better to support us more. It was probably impossible to prevent this. […] We are a peaceful people but we will fight to defend our country, we will do everything we can.”

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com