Following the Russian military invasion in Ukraine last Thursday, several groups around North Carolina, including at UNC, held events to show support for Ukrainian citizens.
Professor Graeme Robertson, director of the Center for Slavic, Eurasian and East European Studies at UNC, said the conflict between Russia and Ukraine stretches back to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
In 2008, when the North Atlantic Treaty Organization invited Georgia and Ukraine to become members, Russia invaded Georgia and took a northern region as Russian territory. The state increased military capacities in hopes of stopping Ukraine from joining NATO.
Until now, the relationship between Russia and Ukraine has had low levels of conflict. In 2014, after the Maidan Revolution, this relationship became rockier.
“Ever since then, there’s been increasingly bad relations between Ukraine and Russia,” Robertson said.
Despite the tension, Russia’s offensive attack on Ukraine comes as a surprise — even to the experts who have been watching the conflict brew.
On Thursday, the world watched as Russia began invading Ukraine from the north, moving toward its capital city Kyiv, as well as from the east and south.
UNC vigil for victims of Russian aggression in Ukraine
On Friday night, the UNC Department of Germanic and Slavic Languages and Literatures and the Russian Flagship Program hosted the vigil for victims of the Russian aggression in Ukraine.
As the bell tower tolled, approximately 50 students, faculty and community members moved closer together to hear testimonies from those speaking out against the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“The time for myths, time for ennobling narratives — that time is over," Stanislav Shvabrin, associate professor of Russian and the Russian Flagship Program Director, said during the vigil.
Shvabrin, a naturalized U.S. citizen, said he felt a professional responsibility to hold the vigil and a sense of personal shame about the attacks.
After Shvabrin read a special statement from the department, ralliers listened to the Ukrainian national anthem and shared testimonies before holding a moment of silence for victims of the conflict.
Anna Ilyasova, a senior health policy and management major at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health spoke about her family — currently in Kyiv — and critiqued how the rest of the world has approached the Ukrainian conflict.
“We should care about Ukraine because there are real people there, just people who want peace, just like us, and that’s enough,” Ilyasova said.
David Gagnidze, a graduate student in global studies, also shared his experiences visiting family in Georgia during the 2008 Russian invasion at the vigil.
“That is something I will never forget firsthand witnessing the marginalization and oppression of an entire people is something I’ll never forget — it’s exactly the same thing that’s happening in Ukraine,” Gagnidze said after the vigil.
March in Raleigh in support of Ukraine
The vigil at UNC is only one of many events occurring throughout North Carolina to raise awareness about the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
On Saturday, over 100 people gathered across the street from the North Carolina State Capitol in Raleigh to show support for Ukraine.
A colorful display of blue and yellow flags, traditional vinok wreaths and handmade signs could be seen in front of the N.C. Court of Appeals for the rally.
The event, advertised over Facebook groups like "Ukrainians in the Carolinas" and the "Ukrainian Association of North Carolina," was led by Olena Kozlova-Pates in a mixture of Ukrainian and English.
The crowd heard from speaker testimonies, yelled chants like “freedom for Ukraine,” “Russia, hands off Ukraine” and “peace for Ukraine" and sang songs in Ukrainian led by Vlad Kary and Sophia Pavlenko-Chandley.
Organizers also collected donations for Revived Soldiers of Ukraine at the event.
Protesters called for representatives in N.C. General Assembly to create a no-fly zone over Ukraine, cut Russia off from SWIFT, the global financial messaging system, send more arms to Ukraine and accept Ukrainian refugees.
Pavlenko-Chandley, who is from Kyiv, said it is important to spread awareness in the United States inspire action among members.
Robertson said the conflict between Russia and Ukraine will continue for a long time, adding that it will be nearly impossible for Russia to take control of Ukraine politically, even if they manage it militarily.
Despite the uncertainty for the foreseeable future, seeds of hope for peace are being planted.
"The fact that we are together is a ray of hope in the middle of all this horror," Shvabrin said. "I dare to hope that Ukraine, let's hope sooner rather than later, will emerge triumphant from this conflict.”
Information about each can be found through the CSEEES website or the Ukrainians in the Carolinas Facebook group.
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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the country in which Stanislav Shvabrin, associate professor of Russian and the Russian Flagship Program Director, holds status as a naturalized citizen. He is a U.S. naturalized citizen. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error.
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