Wind whipped the bright yellow and blue Ukrainian flags through the air as we walked alongside the Missouri River in Old Town, St. Charles. The sense of Ukrainian pride enveloped the march as the chant of “Slava Ukraini! Heroiam slava!” (Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the heroes!) echoed around us. Eventually we came to a stop by a pavilion in Frontier Park. Chatter filled the area as people emotionally hugged their friends and family, some with tears filling their eyes. Everyone was there to support Ukraine and the ending of the war, which started following an invasion ordered on Feb. 24 by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Time was filled with patriotic Ukrainian songs as we waited for speeches and stories to begin from people with families back home in Ukraine.
As we talked to two Ukrainian immigrants, sadness and fear came through their voices. One of the women, Victoriya, explained the dire situations her friends and family are living in. “They have no food and no water and they are afraid to come out. One of my friends, who I no longer can get a hold of, told me on Monday that she was running out of food and water but that she was too afraid to come out because her neighbor tried to escape through his fence and he was shot dead as well as his whole family. They are too scared to come out,” said Victoriya, crying. “We are all worried.”
Another woman, whose parents immigrated to the United States from Ukraine after World War II explained how angry her parents would be to see what is going on in Ukraine today. “My parents would try to do anything they could to get back there to fight [Putin], even if they were eighty or ninety years old, I know they would go back and fight. This is an extinction, he is trying to kill us. He wants to extinguish us,” she said.
NATO needs to recognize that just because they’re saying that we are in this together there’s no we, there is only Ukraine and the Ukrainian people.”
The flags aren’t the only symbol of pride; the looks on people’s faces as they hold one another tight show the love and support they have for the Ukrainian people. “We are here to stand with our people to show that we are with them,” says one woman, as tears roll down her painted blue and yellow cheeks. “My friends who live in Kyiv are in horror,” she said, looking down at her son. “His classmates go down to the shelter several times a day, it is just a very hard situation.”
The sun broke through the clouds while Victoriya, a young woman who came to the U.S. at age seven, wearing a traditional Ukrainian flower crown called a Vinok, took the stage. Most of her family still lives in Ukraine. “They are fighting. They are standing their ground. When I call them all they ask is that I pray and spread information,” Victoriya said. Her mother called immigration services to see when her aunt could come to the United States. The date they gave her was Sept. 18. “That’s eight months away,” she said. “My aunt does not know what to do, if she is going to keep her family in Poland or take them back to Ukraine.” She broke down with emotion as the speech went on, leaving the crowd with a clear message: “Children are dying. They are bombing civilians. They are bombing orphanages. They are bombing college [campuses]. We need to act now.”
“God help us in our fight. He is on our side,” said one woman as she prayed. Dedicated to the fight against Russia, she has donated her life savings to the National Bank of Ukraine to help the Ukrainian military. Begging for help, she called on the crowd to make donations of ammunition, bulletproof vests and helmets to send to Ukraine.
One man spoke while wrapped in a black and red striped flag, which is said to represent the blood and land of Ukraine. He explained that the flag was dyed by a soldier’s blood, turning the yellow and blue to red and black. (For some historical context on this flag, which was and still is used by literal Nazis ). “They are killing our people, shelling our cities. It is unacceptable. Don’t think this little gremlin prick will come back to his mind, [Putin] is a crazy man and he needs to be killed like any other disease.”
“Slava Ukraini! Heroiam slava!”
Sophie Yereschenko's family immigrated to the United States fifteen years ago. She has been using social media to spread information about helping people in the war. Her family is actively trying to get family members out of Ukraine.
"We have friends in Kharkiv, they no longer have windows in their apartments. They have curfews and sirens going off constantly. A lot of people with elders and kids can't leave bomb shelters to go get food so they are kind of waiting on help to come. A couple of our family members are trying to get to Poland right now,"
Yereschenko has raised over ten-thousand dollars alongside her sister and has been transferring it directly to family friends in Ukraine. The money is used to help people get supplies for babies and the injured as they shelter underground.
How to help:
- Donate to organizations like Sunflower of Peace or Venmo @Sophie-Yereschenko for a direct donation to her family friends in Ukraine.