A sea of blue and yellow covered the Capitol Lawn on March 20 as Ukrainian citizens sat in bomb shelters, fearing for both their life and their freedom. Their cries are heard all the way in Lansing.
The Stand with Ukraine rally met in Lansing not to be educated about the subject or simply advocate for the country's distress, but to reflect on it personally as most of the crowd listening to the speakers had personal and deeply emotional connections to Ukraine and its struggles. Over chants of "Slava Ukraini," Sofiaa Skikun spoke on behalf of her family, still stuck in Ukraine, and what it means to her to truly stand with Ukraine.
“It means to take part of every supportive thing you can to help donate and to actually speak out and not just sit quiet,” Skikun said.
Skikun explained that the rally even existing proved that Ukraine's pain is no longer background noise but mainstream media worthy. In her eyes, the message being sent was that the community and their hearts can come together, especially in moments of intense need.
Along with her family, she wanted all of the survivors to stay strong by keeping hope in their hearts because without hope, not much else could exist.
Steps away from Skikun, Mike Hammond held a Ukrainian flag close to his heart as he explained that his fiancé had just escaped Kyiv and was staying in Belgium during this time of distress. He reflected on the thousands that are in the same boat as his loved one.
“I think there's an overwhelming (amount of refugees) in Europe," Hammond said. "I think we immediately need to open … to bring people over and help them out. We have helped other countries and other borders. There's no reason we can’t open up right now.”
Hammond expressed that Ukrainian people like his fiancé were a loving and free people that were being victimized by horrific attacks. While it pained him that he had to stand with them half a world away, speaking of his heart and soul being with the country, he knew that rallies like this were the most effective tool for change in the US.
“If they are published and publicized, they can help show that there's support for the Ukraine culture and the loving people of Ukraine," Hammond said. "They’re just peaceful. They have no need for this.”
With her kids playing in the side lot next to the Capitol steps, Liuba Tkachuk spoke on her own family in Ukraine right now, sleeping in bomb shelters, afraid and frustrated. She brought her kids to share the hope that these rallies can foster.
“My kids are small so they don’t understand completely right now, but it is very important to know that all American people hear Ukrainian words," Tkachuk said.
Tkachuk comes to these rallies to remind others, and herself, that outsiders cannot forget about people like her family and to not to close their eyes but speak out instead, which is everything they can do while far away from the physical fighting.
A petition was passed across the lawn to everyone including Tkachuk on opening the borders to Ukrainian refugees. Donna Riley, the main advocate on the petition, never saw herself as a public speaker until she read the American policy on immigration and heard of the pain being endured firsthand from her friend in Moldova, helping refugees.
“I was outraged that we’re only allowing 10,000 people as long as they are fully vetted, including children," Riley said. "Where as Moldova … the poorest country in all of Europe has accepted 330,000 refugees no questions asked, same thing with Poland. We need to do something. Accepting 10,000 is shameful. These are women and children. Children are our future."
100,000 people are needed to sign this petition for the case of letting more than 10,000 refugees into the country to be even be heard on the Senate floor with only 30 days to get the numbers.
“It makes people aware of what’s going on," Riley said. "I have met so many people who don’t want to talk about it. I’ll pray for you; not good enough. Time for action.”
One person looking for this action in attendance at the rally was the founder of the Ukrainian student organization at MSU, Yuri Tomkiw. Knowing most of the speakers at the rally as his teachers and fellow students at his childhood Ukrainian Catholic school, Tomkiw felt attached to his culture.
“I was raised with a group of people that I descent from that have been fighting for their freedom for centuries almost, just to see it erupt in my lifetime at this magnitude,” Tomkiw said.
He explained that disinformation was the most harmful effect of Russia on his US homefront, being confused and hurt by his peers brandishing Z's on clothes, supporting the so-called special operation in Russia as well as those not wanting to be educated on the subject so close to him. He wants government officials to step in and raise the issue up the governmental food chain to fight Ukrainian disinformation and propaganda spread by Russia.
“The world leaders are going to see that this conflict will involve them and them just sitting trying to avoid something that has already happened is pointless,” Tomkiw said.
He explained that the social media representation of rallies such as these only increases support of these events that educates people with knowledgeable speakers, fighting this harm. He plans on attending the Heart Plaza rally in Detroit as well as the DC Stand for Ukraine.
Tomkiw also wants to do more events at MSU, supporting the cause with his organization, also encouraging lectures to take place on the topic, informing those wanting to learn more.
All eyes including Tomkiw's turned to Debbie Stabenow on the Capitol steps, waiting for the US Senator of Michigan to give some guidance or advice from the elite world of politics, something that has only hurt them in the past. Instead of Ukraine's fate with Russia, they instead were met with support and understanding.
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“Make no mistake Vladimir Putin is a war criminal and he must pay for the horrors he’s bringing to Ukraine," said Stabenow in her speech, condemning the evil acts in Ukraine. "Still courageous people fight for their freedom and their courage comes in so many forms.”
Stabenow focused on the family aspect that hit close to home for the audience. She told the stories of grandmothers sending their grandchildren to war, wiping their tears away, and going back to work, sewing black jackets, everyone doing their part in safeguarding the freedom of Ukraine. She turned instead the responsibility to America, needing to give the necessary support to end Putin's immoral war.
Stabenow calls for the government to hit Russia where it hurts: wallets and back accounts, including institutions in Michigan cutting off investments in the country. She also updated that 1400 anti-air missile systems, 100 drone systems, 400 million rounds of ammunition and other supplies such as helicopters, boats, helmets and medical equipment have been sent to Ukraine from the US to support the fight.
Her goal was shared by the crowd: keep the skies safe. She wants to bring the nations together to fight this, commending Biden on working to rebuild NATO. She ended her speech with words that rang emotional in the waves of Ukrainian Michiganders: Ukraine glory and freedom has not yet perished.
Stabenow took a minute to speak with the State News on why this topic is important to her and why she chooses this stance to stand on.
“This is incredibly important," Stabenow said. "We have over 50,000 Michiganders who come from Ukraine or have Ukrainian ancestors, or friends and family still there. It’s heartbreaking every single minute of every single day.”
She stands against the senseless death and war crimes that have been enacted upon Ukraine by Putin and calls for action.
“We are laser focused on doing everything humanly possible from financial and economic sanctions, billions of dollars in aid we’ve already been doing, and I want the most effective use of that money," Stabenow said. "The discussion is how best to protect the skies.”
Stabenow highlighted the importance of events and rallies, meeting people who are experts or simply directly impacted with the crisis overseas.
“It also makes a difference to put names and faces on the horror that we’re hearing about in the news,” Stabenow said.
Stabenow shared the words she would want the victims of war in Ukraine to hear from her.
“God bless you. I’m so sorry and we’re doing everything that we can to stop it."
The rally ended with both the Ukraine and American national anthems being sung, depicting their unwavering support and camaraderie. Chants followed as the crowd dispersed: "we want peace" and "stand with Ukraine."
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