Blue and yellow flags fluttered on Main Street as locals rallied at All-America Square on day 52 of Russia’s armed conflict against Ukraine last Saturday (April 16). Organizers of the event hoped to keep the conflict in the public consciousness and unite people around an appeal to end the violence.
“I was compelled to do this. I just felt like I needed to do something,” said Bruce Kelsh, who helped spearhead the event as chair of the Earth and Social Justice Committee of the First Presbyterian Church. “And it resonates in a way that is so incredibly powerful to see the unification of not just countries, but people around the world that have such heart for what’s going on with the Ukrainian people and the suffering and terror. And I think that touches everybody.”
On Feb. 24, 2022, Russian forces entered Ukraine, launching a large-scale military invasion of the neighboring country.
A couple dozen people showed up for Saturday’s rally.
Kelsh credited Cottage Grove City Councilor Kenneth Roberts for coordinating with the American Legion, the City of Cottage Grove and downtown businesses for permission to fly Ukrainian flags down Main Street for the day.
At the rally, Mayor Jeff Gowing read the city’s proclamation in support of Ukraine, which he had announced at a Feb. 28 Cottage Grove City Council meeting.
The mayor proclaimed support for the country as it “has been subjected to unnecessary fear, pain and injury because of the unwarranted attack” by Russia.
Gowing said that the leadership of Russia has engaged in a direct and intentional violation of human rights and should be held responsible for the loss of human life and loss of property resulting from the invasion, adding that the attack is an “affront to the foundation of international relations”.
During the rally, the crowd listened the Ukrainian national anthem and a Debussy flute piece performed by Claire Savin.
Ukrainian citizens and residents of Eugene Andrew Schular and Iryna Volynets visited to speak to the crowd about their home country and the conflict.
Volynets is PhD student at the University of Oregon studying landscape architecture and has lived in the United States for three years. Schular, followed her here a year ago and works as an architectural designer.
Volynets described her shock as Russian President Vladimir Putin declared is “special military operation” in Ukraine.
“For my entire life, Ukraine has never been to war,” she said. “And we did not know what exactly war is – how much pain and destruction and suffering it brings to families, to countries.”
Living so far away made her feel helpless, she said, but she hoped by sharing her stories she could make a small impact on awareness.
She spoke of the bravery and resilience of those fighting in and enduring the conflict.
“We’re showing that even though we don’t have as much weapons as Russia has, we don’t have such a huge army, but with Ukrainian willpower and bravery to fight against this invasion, we showed that we can withstand that. And we can do that with words,” she said.
She also thanked the people of the United States for their support and asked for aid to continue.
Schular also spoke of his shock at the brutality of the Russian military.
As a cycling hobbyist, he described how he has biked around Cottage Grove and Dorena Lake just as he has through the rural communities outside Kyiv.
In speaking of the destruction of the relatively smaller city of Bucha in Ukraine, he asked the audience to imagine seeing Cottage Grove’s own Main Street devastated and overrun with tanks.
“It was so shocking to see that none of the buildings survived on the main streets (in Bucha),” he said. “Imagine to lose all of that in the matter of weeks, to have tanks stationed around your own houses and, soldiers threatening and coming and doing all of these atrocities.”
Schular expressed his hope that the conflict would serve as a lesson that committing such acts will have accountability.
“I urge you to keep on watching. Don’t leave Ukraine alone to stand against this this giant nation, this giant country and this giant military,” he said.
Schular afterward told The Sentinel that he found the turnout of people at the rally heartwarming.
“That was beautiful, actually,” he said. “We felt like we came, like we’ve been invited to somebody’s home, and it was kind of like warm wishes and warm words. Very comfortable.”
He hoped that such events would help people understand that suffering on the other side of the world does not have to be abstract.
“You know, we’re all people, we share the same values, we share the same cause,” he said.
“I’m very thankful for this rally today,” added Volynets. “We are thankful that people talk about Ukraine and I think it’s our duty to spread information about Ukraine, because the longer Ukraine is present on media and present and people hearts, the more chances we have to win.”
Pastor Karen Hill of First Presbyterian Church ended the rally with a prayer for peace in Ukraine and around the world.