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WAR IN UKRAINE

Russian invasion is ‘terrorism,’ Rhode Island will welcome refugees, McKee says during vigil for Ukraine

More than 100 people gathered in the cold rain to share stories and show support for Ukraine at a peace vigil at the Rhode Island statehouse.

A crowd gathered to listen to speakers during a peace vigil in solidarity with the people of Ukraine at the Rhode Island State House in Providence.Matthew Healey for The Boston Globe

PROVIDENCE — Karina Granovska stood in the back during a peace vigil for Ukraine at the Rhode Island Statehouse. She listened along with a crowd of about 100 people as both the American and Ukrainian anthems were played. She listened to speakers denounce Russia’s invasion, and the governor call the conflict “terrorism.”

But what stood out most were the words of Christine Charest, whose family in Ukraine has been sending her messages since the war began. Each message was grimmer than the last.

Granovska, who emigrated from Ukraine 14 years ago, is waiting for a message from her own family. It’s been more than a week since she’s heard from them. The last time they spoke she heard the sounds of very loud sirens, bombs, and shooting. They live in Kyiv, the capital and most populous city in Ukraine, that is under constant bombardment by Russian soldiers.

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Archdeacon Vasyl of the Saint Michael Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Woonsocket followed along in prayer at a peace vigil in solidarity with the people of Ukraine at the Rhode Island State House in Providence on March 26, 2022. Matthew Healey for The Boston Globe

“There is no electricity, no water, no connection,” Granovska said at the vigil on Saturday. “We’re just praying for them to be alive. Hoping to see that little message at least ‘We are OK’ or ‘We are alive.’”

“My little cousins, at this point, they can distinguish when it’s shooting rockets from the air or when it’s shooting from the tanks,” she said. Her cousins are young, less than 5 years old.

Attendees held Ukrainian flags and stood steadfast in the bone-chilling rain to listen to the speakers declare support for the eastern European country.

Governor Dan McKee told the crowd that what is happening in Ukraine today is “terrorism” and asked Rhode Island to join together to support local Ukrainian families.

“We stand right outside the Garden of Heroes and we honor those who protect our freedom, we honor those who died since 9/11 on the War on Terrorism,” the governor said. “What’s happening in Ukraine today is a war on terrorism. It’s terrorism what’s happening right now when an innocent people are attacked by an individual who does not deserve to be in power.”

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“Hospitals are being attacked. Households are being attacked,” he said. “Missiles are flying into that country right now, as we speak.”

Russian troops who have already fired on 64 verified health cares centers, according to the United Nations.

Granovska said she is angry about the invasion and terrified for her family and friends. Many won’t leave even in the face of death to support their husbands and cousins who stayed to fight for their homeland.

Last month, McKee sent a letter to President Biden saying that Rhode Island is “ready and willing to welcome Ukrainian refugees who are being forced from their homes.” On Saturday, McKee restated his commitment to welcome Ukrainian refugees and urged Ukrainian families to reach out to the state for assistance bringing their families to Rhode Island.

“Our state is at best when all 39 cities and towns, and the communities that make up our 39 cities and towns, stand together as one,” McKee said.

The governor said the only word he could think of to describe Russian President Vladimir Putin was “evil.”

“President Biden is absolutely correct, an evil man does not deserve to be in power in any country in the world,” McKee said. “We stand together and my office continues to work with Dorcas International on what steps we can take to accept Ukrainian people who are fleeing their country.”

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Irene Shewchuk of North Smithfield, Rhode Island listened to speakers during a peace vigil in solidarity with the people of Ukraine at the Rhode Island State House in Providence, Rhode Island on March 26, 2022. Shewchuk is the president of Saint Michael Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Woonsocket. (Matthew Healey for The Boston Globe)Matthew Healey for The Boston Globe

Melissa Santos said she came to the vigil at the behest of her granddaughter, Grace Blaisdell, a Girl Scout who has been making hygiene bags for Ukrainian refugees. They were joined by Grace’s mother, Santos’s daughter Rachel Blaisdell.

The three generations of family have been participating in Ukrainian fundraisers and Thursday they held sunflowers and signs that said “Support Ukraine.”

“She has smaller children,” said Santos, nodding toward her daughter. “It just breaks your heart when you see them on TV and you can put yourself there and say, ‘What would it be like for a family to be going through that in the winter now, with losing your home and just being displaced?’”

“I just hope that the Ukrainian people can return to their home,” 10-year-old Grace said. She’s decided to complete her Girl Scout Bronze award to assist Ukrainian refugees and raise awareness about the war, her mother said in a Facebook post after the vigil.



Carlos Muñoz can be reached at carlos.munoz@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @ReadCarlos and on Instagram @Carlosbrknews.