ITHACA, N.Y.—A rally in support of Ukraine saw around 100 people gather at the Bernie Milton Pavilion in the Ithaca Commons on Sunday.
The rally was quickly planned by Ukrainians living in the City of Ithaca, such as Olenka Zavodna, who said she wanted to grow support for her country as it faces a full scale invasion from Russia, which has bombed and shelled Ukrainian population centers, worked to take over Ukrainian nuclear facilities, as its army moves closer to the capital of Ukraine, Kyiv.
Zavodna said that her family is in western Ukraine, which is not seeing fighting, but the region has become a major corridor for the scores of Ukranians fleeing mortal danger. The United Nations estimates that, so far, Russia’s invasion has caused more than a million Ukrainians to seek refuge abroad, and displaced over one million Ukranians within the country.
“It’s really hard to be here while they’re all there and not being there to help them,” Zavodna said. “We’re trying to do what we can here.”
Local Ukranians were openly distraught at Sunday’s rally. Some were on the cusp of tears as the crowd chanted, and individual Ukranians shared personal stories.
“We didn’t believe that Russia could start this war — full scale war in Ukraine. We didn’t believe in it,” said Olga Ziminia, a Ukrainian originally from Crimea. Ziminia had also organized a previous rally at Cornell University in support of Ukraine.
Local Ukranians spoke about watching footage of their cities being destroyed, seeing Ukrainian citizens dead at the hands of Russian soldiers, and even learning of the deaths of their family members.
Anastasiia Mizetska captured the attention of Sunday’s crowd, showing a poster board with a photo of extended relatives that were killed as they fled to Kyiv from a surrounding suburb Hostomel’, which became an early target by Russian forces for its airport.
Mizetska said that her relatives — who she is removed from by two degrees, but she stressed is very close with — were a family of five, including a father, mother, eighteen year old boy, a five year old girl, and a grandmother. They fled Hostomel’ in a van, but were fired on by Russian soldiers, who thought they were a part of the Ukrainian citizens who had begun fighting from their personal vehicles.
Her great-aunt and 5-year-old distant cousin were the only survivors, said Mizetska, who was visibily upset as she shared that the child had a bullet lodged in her head for two days before doctors were able to remove it.
“Civilians are dying for nothing. Ukraine didn’t do anything bad. Ukraine didn’t violate anything,” said Mizetska .
She said, “This war is a crime against humanity.”
This account was told to Mizetska by her great aunt. Out of the interest of privacy and security, Mizetska told The Ithaca Voice that she did not want to share her surviving relatives’ names and locations.
Local Ukranians asked attendees at the rally to make donations to their country, and push for attention to remain on Russia’s invasions, and certain attendees Sunday joined their country’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, in imploring for a no-fly zone to be imposed in their country’s air space.
A no-fly zone would mean that all aircraft — Ukrainian, Russian, or NATO — would be shot down. This would have to be enforced by NATO countries. The ban on aircraft would tip the scales for Ukraine, as Russia’s superior air force continues to bomb its cities. But it would be an act of war to Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Saturday that any move in the direction of imposing a no-fly zone would be “considered by us as participation in an armed conflict by that country.”
NATO members have resisted embracing the measure, which remains a contentious subject outside of Ukraine, citing the risk of broadening the conflict among nuclear powers.
But with an existential threat already on their country’s soil, Ukranians feel they are struggling through a David vs Goliath scenario.
On Sunday, Marko Vatamaniuk said, “What are they waiting for? For Russia to destroy our whole country and then close it [the sky]?”
“I believe in our army that they will protect our lands, but I ask people from Europe and the U.S. for help,” said Ziminia.
At one point on Sunday, Ukranians moved the crowd to chant “close the sky.”
One attendee in the crowd openly expressed discomfort and fear at the prospect of possibly starting a nuclear war.
Tetiana Seely, a local Ukrainian, said that in the future, she hopes she can explain this conflict, “As something that united the whole world…Ukraine being so many times smaller than Russia could still defeat evil. I wish this will be a story that no matter how small you are, you can go against evil and the world will support you.”