From handheld to banner size, dozens of blue and yellow Ukrainian flags waved in a brisk winter breeze over Copley Square as hundreds gathered Sunday to mark the first anniversary of the Russian invasion of the eastern European nation.
“Ukraine has shown the world how brave Ukrainians are,” Anton Khlebas, the event’s host and cofounder of the Ukrainian Cultural Center of New England, told the somber sign-waving crowd.
“The world supports Ukraine. USA stands with Ukraine. Ukraine is blessed with all its allies,” Khlebas said. “But Ukraine needs help to stop the tyranny. Ukraine needs help to stop the massacres, to stop the atrocities and war crimes. Ukraine needs us to continue fighting for freedom in the world, wherever we are.”
For nearly 90 minutes, the ralliers stood quietly in the wintry chill listening to words of encouragement, strength, and solidarity from politicians, activists, and clergy who decried the Feb. 24, 2022, invasion of Ukraine by Russian troops. The crowd’s exuberance burst forth in Ukrainian chants and cheers between speakers.
Vasyl Paliy, 43, of Walpole, went to Sunday’s rally with his wife, 39-year-old Oksana Paliy, and their cousin’s daughter, Viktoria Zharkova, a recent refugee from Paliy’s hometown of Lviv, the largest city in western Ukraine.
“The weather is not important. It doesn’t matter if it’s cold or hot, we’re here to support Ukrainian people,” Vasyl Paliy said, holding a handmade sign that simply stated “Stop War.”
Ukrainian people are suffering daily, going without heat and without water; children are studying underground, he said.
“We want to come here and show our message to the world,” Paliy said.
Zharkova, 24, said she worked at a beauty salon in Lviv, but she was always scared and the never-ending sound of sirens and missile explosions along with constant coming in and out of hiding in a bomb shelter took its toll.
She arrived in Massachusetts a month ago. It’s been a huge relief, Zharkova said, “it’s like fresh air.”
A delegate of Mayor Michelle Wu read a proclamation that declared Feb. 26, 2023, as “Boston Ukraine Day” and shared remarks from the mayor.
“On this day, and in solidarity with the people of Ukraine, I commend them for their strength, courage, and bravery, and do urge all citizens of the city of Boston to stand together and support the Ukrainian people in this fight for freedom,” Sarah Delude, Wu’s global affairs director, said on the mayor’s behalf.
US Representative Stephen F. Lynch, a longtime South Boston Democrat, said he traveled to Ukraine at the beginning of the “lawless and brutal invasion” and witnessed firsthand “the strength and courage of the Ukrainian people” as they rallied together to resist the invasion and defend their nation.
“I think it’s important for all of us to remember that this is not just about Ukraine,” Lynch said. “Ukraine stands at the front line of democracy in Europe.”
Anna Dyakiv, 30, lives in the North End, but grew up in Stryi, near Lviv, in western Ukraine. She said she had lived in the United States for the past 15 years.
“To think that it’s been a year since a full-scale war in Ukraine,” Dyakiv said, a Ukrainian flag draped around her shoulders like a cape. “Everyone everywhere is able to complete a lot of things in a year. But to think that our loved ones back home have not had a day, of the 365 days, that has been peaceful.
“It is important for us and those who can to come out and show our support and raise awareness that the war is still happening and people are dying a year later,” Dyakiv said. “This is the least we can do.”
Max Izumenko, 33, who now lives in Malden, spent the first two months of the war in his hometown of Kyiv, the country’s capital. His path out of Ukraine was “a very long” one that began with a few months in Turkey where his sister lived, Izumenko said.
“It was pretty scary and uncomfortable,” Izumenko said. “We were worrying about ourselves, our relatives, and our homes. Luckily, this disaster didn’t come too close to us, but we still hear from friends of friends who have had their homes destroyed.”
Events like Sunday’s rally are necessary reminders of what’s at stake, Izumenko said.
“It is important to come to meetings like this and to show the Boston community that this should be important for the democratic free world,” Izumenko said.
After the rally, the Trinity Church opened its doors to the Ukrainian community for a service to pray for an end to Russia’s invasion.
About 200 people filed into the pews of the historic church in Copley Square, some coming and going as the service proceeded. Some wore Ukrainian flags draped over their shoulders, while others had blue and yellow pins on their jackets and bags.
The Rev. Abi Moon, a senior associate at the church, opened the service with a prayer for peace in Ukraine.
“We remember this day those who find themselves thrust into war; we pray for light in the darkness, and hope amid despair. We pray for peace in ourselves; help us to breathe in peace, help us to breathe out love; help us know and accept ourselves, and all others as your beloved.”
In the church’s undercroft, 52 posters on display in an exhibit called “Defending Freedom” chronicled the war’s first year with photographs showing the destruction wrought by the Russian invaders. Some of the images showed blown-out buildings, fiery explosions, and injured civilians being carried on stretchers.
Clergy from other churches in and around Boston and a rabbi from a Chelsea synagogue participated in the interfaith service, which lasted about an hour and 20 minutes. The service included Bible verses read in Ukrainian and a sermon by the Very Rev. Dr. Michael Battle, who called for Christians to unify in their support of Ukraine and denounce oppressors.
“Injustice toward Ukraine is a threat toward justice around the world,” Battle said as he delivered the sermon from the church’s pulpit overlooking the congregation hall.