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A Jewish-Ukrainian rally for peace in Brookline

Zelda Goulet, 7, (left) and her friend Elliot Rousseau, 8, waved Ukrainian flags their parents bought at a fund-raiser for the people of Ukraine at Center Makor.Matthew J Lee/Globe staff

BROOKLINE — Center Makor was draped in blue and yellow as hundreds gathered at the Jewish cultural center Sunday to celebrate Ukrainian culture and call for peace as Russia’s invasion continues to batter the country and its people.

Sunday’s events, organizers said, were a demonstration of solidarity between two groups that have been historically intertwined. Ukraine has long been home to a significant population of Jewish people.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, who is Jewish, has appealed to the Jewish community worldwide for support since Russia invaded Ukraine more than six weeks ago.

The “Day of Unity” at Center Makor on Sunday included cultural activities, food, and culminated in a late-afternoon rally that drew close to 100 people in a show of support for Ukraine.

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They called for an end to the war, waved blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flags, and chanted in the country’s native language. They also expressed their shared pain over a Russian missile attack near a Holocaust memorial in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital.

“The bombing of that memorial felt to many Jews like an attack on collective memories of the Holocaust, on historical truth, and on humanity’s commitment that the atrocities of the Holocaust must never ever happen again,” said state Senator Cynthia Creem, the Democratic majority leader whose district includes Brookline. “We can’t stand idly by as [President Vladimir Putin of Russia] violates the sovereignty of Ukraine and commits atrocities against its people.”

Rabbi Marc Baker, the president of Boston-based Combined Jewish Philanthropies, said that Jewish people worldwide feel the pain of each bomb dropped on Ukraine.

“As part of the Jewish people, when we see Jews suffering anywhere in the world we feel a deep sense of connection and collective responsibility [to ensure] that no Jew anywhere in the world, no Jewish person sleeping in a shelter in Ukraine should go to bed at night and not know that Jews here in Boston have their backs,” said Baker. “This crisis is personal.”

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His group, which he said has a partnership with the Jewish community in the eastern Ukrainian city of Dnipro, has raised some $3 million for Ukraine aid efforts.

The support comes as Russia’s offensive continues in Ukraine, and people worldwide have responded to the shocking human atrocities committed on ordinary citizens of Ukraine.

Ganna Savostyanova, who moved to the United States from Kyiv 13 years ago, winced at the mention of the images of tortured civilians that have emerged from Bucha in recent days.

“I can hardly even speak of it,” said Savostyanova, who lives in Revere. “This kind of violence, using brutality against people who have no defense, is the stuff of criminals who are out of control. What the Russians have done in Ukraine is unspeakable.”

The war, she said, has brought the Ukrainian community in Boston together in ways she hasn’t seen before.

“Normally, when we immigrate, we just go about our businesses trying to fit into the new society and at work,” she said. “But this has brought us together as Ukrainians. We are united in trying to help in any way that we can.”

Sunday’s event, which comes as Jews around the world prepare to celebrate Passover, which starts on Friday, also celebrated the joy of Ukrainian culture.

Volunteers served a melange of Ukrainian dishes, including vareniki, a small potato-filled dumpling typically topped with sour cream and caramelized onions. The center’s walls were decorated with paintings and trinkets hand-crafted by Ukrainian artists.

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Still, the plight of a people at war in their homeland was never far from people’s thoughts.

Some quietly viewed a display of photos depicting bombed-out cities and the casualties of war in Ukraine.

Draped in their country’s flag, a few Ukrainians looked at the photos and shared personal stories about the toll the war has taken on their own families who still live there.

Caryn Schneider, who is from Weymouth, teared up as she listened. Her great grandparents fled Ukraine 100 years ago, and the war is a sad reminder of her family’s tragic history.

“One of my sets of great grandparents were killed, tortured,” she said. “It is completely surreal to see it happening to Ukraine again. Only this time, the weaponry is more technologically advanced and killing more people.”

And yet, there was hope expressed at Sunday’s gathering.

As the rally neared an end, one woman stood atop the steps reading a poem to the crowd. Her friend, a civilian, was killed last week in the war, she said, and she wrote the poem for her.

“We’ll grow again from seeds,” she read, the crowd listening in silence. “We’ll get stronger for the peace, for the heroes who don’t breathe. We’ll build and save our peace.”