In the midst of a crowd on Ho Plaza, a woman hands out yellow roses from a bouquet, each individually tied with a blue bow around the stem. The woman, Maryna Lytvynova Mullerman, grad, a Ukrainian veterinary student, uses torn pieces from her navy-blue veterinary scrubs to make strips of fabric to mimic a ribbon. The colors of the rose and ribbon are a representation of the Ukrainian flag, a symbol of solidarity for those currently affected by the Russian-Ukrainian crisis.
Students, faculty and other sympathizers joined together in support of Ukraine on Feb. 26 at Ho Plaza as the conflict continued to escalate in Europe. Attendees of the peaceful protest waved blue and yellow banners as the Ukrainian national anthem played. Some protestors offered poster supplies to create messages against the war.
The protest comes after Russian military forces invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, causing uproar and leaving an impression on the global scene. Supporters of Ukraine across the world have held protests, vigils and religious movements in response to the attacks, calling for peace. The devastation that comes with war is difficult to bear alone, and those in Ithaca with ties to Ukraine are leading movements to find a sense of community.
While passing out her roses to protestors, Mullerman shared how she received overwhelming support from friends, family and peers while processing her initial reactions to the daily updates from home.
“Nobody could predict this; nobody could expect this,” Mullerman said. “Me and my fellow Ukrainian students are in complete, complete shock.”
Mullerman was born and raised in Ukraine, only immigrating to the United States when she was 15 years old for schooling. Her family and friends remain in Ukraine, but her grandparents were able to be evacuated.
“[There’s been] bombs for the past three days non-stop; I just hope all of them are in bomb shelters,” Mullerman said. “My heart is still there, my home is still there. It is extremely hard to watch this and not be able to do much.”
Prof. Olena Vatamaniuk, soil and crop sciences, expressed disbelief that the conflict is occurring.
“We knew there were forces that were surrounding Ukraine, we knew it may happen, but we still didn’t believe it was possible in the 21st century,” Vatamaniuk said.
With a sense of urgency, Vatamaniuk further explained the significance of the event.
“What’s happening right now goes beyond Ukraine. It really touches Europe, it touches all parts of the world because it’s a fight for democracy,” Vatamaniuk said. “It’s an assault on democracy, people need to understand this. Which country would be next?”
One protestor, Cassi Wattenburger, grad, said that prior to the conflict she was on a “news diet”and hadn’t been reading the news. That changed as soon as she heard about the invasion and had thought about her friends who might be affected.
“It became difficult for me to continue to read the news,” she said. “However, I came here to support my Ukrainian friend [Olenka Zavodna].”
Olga Zimina, a visiting scientist in biology, and Olenka Zavodna, grad, organized the protest on Ho Plaza. They urged Cornellians to support Ukraine and spread awareness about the conflict. They encouraged students to donate to humanitarian organizations and message their local government officials to push more sanctions on Russia.
“One of the reasons why we organized this protest is to show people at Cornell that we are here,” Zavodna said. “Ukrainians are here, and we will protest against the war. Hopefully, Cornell will follow our lead and give some sort of statement, because it was disheartening not to see one.”
Along with Zavodna, Vatamaniuk expressed hopes that Cornell will make a statement soon in support of international students from the eastern European region.
“I am very appalled at Cornell,” Vatamaniuk said. “There was not a single word from the Cornell administration in support of Cornellians who are Ukrainians. I did write a letter, and they did not write back. We are getting letters from people around the world; we don’t need a political statement, just a statement of support. I can’t focus – my mind is with Ukraine.”
Zimina touched on Ukraine’s resilience as she looked back on the group in attendance. She reiterated that her people are peaceful but willing to fight for their freedom and independence.
“If Russia would stop fighting there would be no war,” Zimina said. “If Ukraine were to stop fighting, there would be no Ukraine.”
Correction, March 2, 5:27 p.m.: A previous version of this article inaccurately stated that Maryna Lytvynova Mullerman’s grandparents were not able to be evacuated from Ukraine. The article has been updated to reflect that they were evacuated.