On the one-year anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, community members dressed in blue and yellow crouched in front of a growing collection of candles lining the pathway toward the North Carolina State Capitol.
Some of the candles on the walkway rested on sheets of paper bearing the details of important events since Feb. 24, 2022. One candle represented the 58 people who were killed and over 100 who were injured from the cluster munitions attack at the Kramatorsk train station on April 8, 2022.
As the light faded on Friday evening, over 100 people honored a moment of silence for Ukrainian citizens before listening to speeches and poetry readings during the vigil hosted by the Ukrainian Association of North Carolina in downtown Raleigh.
Some community members draped Ukrainian flags around their shoulders. Others wore Ukrainian wreaths, or vinoks, and traditional Ukrainian clothing with detailed embroidery.
Also in the crowd were Chapel Hill community members who had attended the UNC Center for Slavic, Eurasian and East European Studies’ roundtable discussion earlier that day. The discussion brought together UNC academics, community members and Ukrainian activists, scholars and educators to reflect on the past year of conflict.
“Glory and honor to all those who fought and who shed their blood to defend Ukraine,” Olena Kozlova-Pates, the founder and executive director of Ukrainians in the Carolinas, said during her speech. “Eternal memory to lives taken by Russia’s barbaric war.”
Speeches were delivered in both Ukrainian and English and were punctured by calls of “Slava Ukraini!”, which means "Glory to Ukraine!", and the crowd response of “Heroiam Slava!", meaning "Glory to the heroes!"
Andre Barkov, a Durham resident from Ukraine, works for HOPE International, which has been providing humanitarian and resilience aid in Ukraine in the past year to support basic needs and community initiatives.
“I’m Ukrainian and I want to be with my people here in the States,” he said.
Barkov was in Ukraine a few days before the Russian invasion for a visit and said he was sad to leave, even though the invasion was anticipated.
He said HOPE International has seen generous support from the global community during the past year, and he feels like the Western world is united with Ukraine against Russia.
On Feb. 23, 141 members of the United Nations voted to adopt a resolution that demanded Russia leave Ukraine and end the war. Seven member states, spearheaded by Russia, voted against it, and Ukrainian citizens continue to defend themselves against the Russian military.
Ivan Chervynskyy, who works in oncology in Ukraine, is visiting hospitals in North Carolina for a week to bring new knowledge and strategies back to the Ukrainian healthcare system.
Chervynskyy said within the past year, most medicine and supplies in Ukraine were allocated to the military, so there is less available for those in the lower levels of the current healthcare system.
“But we’re still there and work (to) help people,” Chervynskyy said.
Vlad Milga's roots are still in Ukraine, despite having lived in the United States for 14 years.
Milga believes it’s important to support Ukraine and to teach his children to do the same. He said he is grateful to have found a family of other Ukrainians in North Carolina.
“I’m so happy looking around and seeing Ukrainian flags. So, for me, it’s awesome,” he said.
Kozlova-Pates thanked the North Carolina community for supporting Ukraine on the behalf of Ukrainians in the Carolinas.
She said the community has been supportive for the past nine years of conflict with Russia — which began in 2014 with the annexation of Crimea and related combat in eastern Ukraine.
Within the past year, many North Carolinians have provided refuge to Ukrainian families coming to the state, as well as donated to Ukrainian relief efforts, Kozlova-Pates said.
“Long live Ukraine, long live freedom, long live democracy," Steve Rao, a Morrisville Town Council member, said in a speech at the vigil. "And I'm here in this community, in North Carolina, along with elected officials across the state to help you in any way."
Ukrainian speakers and attendees at the vigil noted the support they have received from their community in North Carolina.
Barkov attended the vigil with family and friends, who joined in solidarity, and Milga said he’s found a lot of support in American friends during the past year.
The vigil’s speakers and attendees emphasized the belief that the war will end with Ukraine regaining its freedom.
“Ukraine will win,” Kozlova-Pates said. “It is unbeatable. It is unbreakable. It is invincible.”
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