Gov. Ned Lamont, Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, Mayor Shari Cantor, other officials, faith leaders, and the organizational director of the Ukrainian National Home in Hartford spoke at a vigil in support in Ukraine in West Hartford on Sunday.
By Ronni Newton
It’s now been more than two weeks since Russia began its attack on Ukraine, and Sunday afternoon Gov. Ned Lamont and Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz joined Mayor Shari Cantor at a vigil at West Hartford Town Hall to show solidarity with the Ukrainian people who continue their fight.
“We know that Russia’s attack was illegal, unprovoked, and unjustified, and it’s been incredible to see how the United States and its allies, and literally the entire world, has come together and rallied in support of the Ukrainian people,,” Bysiewicz said. The courage of the Ukrainians, the willingness of the people of Poland and other surrounding countries to welcome well over a million refugees seeking safety, and the way people in Connecticut have stepped up to help has been so inspiriting, she said.
“It’s truly a humanitarian crisis that we are witnessing,” Bysiewicz said, urging people to support trusted organizations such as Save the Children, AmeriCares, the Red Cross, and Doctors Without Borders.
“Why don’t we raise those beautiful flags and show Mr. Putin who we are and where we stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine, and democracy, and freedom, and human rights,” said Bysiewicz, as the crowd of several hundred responded by waving small Ukrainian flags that had been handed out to the first 250 people to arrive.
“This scene is being replicated thousands of times across Connecticut, across America, across every continent on Earth, because … freedom is not free, we are going to stand up, we’re going support the people of Ukraine every day,” Lamont said, urging the community, if they know anyone who lives in Russia, to let them know what’s really happening and the outrage the world is feeling. President Zelensky and the people of Ukraine have surprised everyone with their grit, and they need all of our support, including financial and medical resources, he said.
“Democracy is at risk, democracy is at threat, liberty is not free, and I think you see people fighting for their liberty like there is no tomorrow. Let’s not let them down, let’s do what we can to support them as well,” Lamont said.
Other speakers included state Rep. Edwin Vargas, who will represent a portion of West Hartford when realignment is completed and in whose district the Ukrainian National Home is located. He said while no one wants to pay more at the gas pump, it’s a small price to pay compared to what the Ukrainians are going through. “Slava Ukraini!” he said, as the crowd echoed the phrase that means “Glory to Ukraine!” – and is a saying once banned by the Soviet Union.
One of those who has been intimately involved with the effort to provide support to Ukraine is Myron Kolinsky, the child of parents born in Ukraine and the organizational director of the Ukrainian National Home of Hartford. He said following a drive held last week, a 53-foot tractor trailer headed to New Jersey, carrying the first load of donated clothing, food, medical supplies, and other items on its journey to Poland and Ukraine.
“We thank you all for your support, for the donations, for the prayers,” Kolinsky said. “We really do appreciate it and I thank you for being here today. Slava Ukraini,” he added.
“We had an overwhelming response last week,” Kolinsky said following the vigil. He said the Town of West Hartford, through Public Relations Specialist Renée McCue, is coordinating volunteers to assist with sorting and packing the donations, but what’s also needed are funds to pay for shipping.
In addition to the tractor trailer that left last week, Kolinsky said another tractor trailer is set to depart on March 24, and there are seven pods in the parking lot of the Ukrainian National Home with sorted goods, as well as more donations in the lower level of the home as well that still need to be sorted.
“We asked what we can do to make a difference in what is becoming the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II,” Jewish Federation President and CEO David Waren said. “A crisis that doesn’t stop at the borders of Ukraine and a conflict that also implicates our values and our way of life.”
Joining in solidarity with the Ukrainian people and the institutions and values that they are defending is one thing, Waren said. “We are hundreds here but we join millions around the world protesting over the last two weeks.”
The Jewish Federation has already raised more than $350,000 in 10 days, Waren said, “and we are not stopping.” He urged people to support charities to help the millions of people who are in need of food, clothing, medicine, and shelter.
Members of the clergy also spoke to the crowd, including Rabbi Debra Cantor, Rabbi Michael Pincus, and Rev. Stacy Emerson, and Rev. Jane Willan, who opened the vigil with a prayer.
“Then, as now, the war, the invasion, was fuel by lies, propaganda, and misinformation, which built on ancient prejudices and fears,” said Rabbi Cantor, who traveled to Ukraine nine years ago, a year before Russia invaded and annexed Crimea. “My friends, we must stand against all of that, against the senseless and cruel, incredibly cruel invasion, against the indiscriminate attacks on a civilian population, against the efforts of a megalomaniac to obliterate a burgeoning democracy, against the cruelty, the horror, the destruction … we must stand up for what is right. We must extend our compassionate embrace in tangible ways to the people of Ukraine.”
Mayor Shari Cantor said a spokesperson for the World Central Kitchen said volunteers have been feeding people but while they typically respond to natural disasters, which end, “this is actually an ongoing crisis and probably will escalate, so there is a different response and a different requirement, a different demand from all of us. I just ask that you stay strong, support the people that you can support.”
Andrei Brel, founder and president of West Harford-based Juniper Homecare, said following the vigil that they have close to 100 employees from Ukraine, and many of them have family or friends still there. One of his managers was able to bring his sister, via Romania, to the United States. “She brought her daughter, but her husband is fighting, he’s in the war zone. It’s a bittersweet feeling,” he said.
Brel, who is originally from Belarus, brought his family to the United States in 1993 “I would never imagine a war,” he said.
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