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    A Vigil/Rally in Support of Ukraine— Unity in Praying for Peace

    People gathering, holding Ukrainian flags at the Bernie Milton Pavillion on the Ithaca Commons People gathering, holding Ukrainian flags at the Bernie Milton Pavillion on the Ithaca Commons

    Ithaca, NY— This past Thursday a rally/vigil was held on the Ithaca Commons to show support for Ukraine amid the ongoing war in the country following Russia’s invasion. Around 100 people gathered in the Commons in prayer and unity on a day marking one month since Russia’s invasion began. The rally was organized by Area Congregations Together (ACT), a local multi-faith not-for-profit that works to create meaningful interactions among various religious groups in Tompkins County.
    The rally/vigil included speakers from numerous Ithaca congregations including Pastor Debbie Reynolds of the First Baptist Church, Mahmud Burton of Al Huda Islamic Center, Rabbi Shifrah Tobacman of Congregation Tikkun v’Or, among others.

    The Voices of Ukrainians at the Rally/Vigil

    Ukrainian student, Olga Zimina from Cornell University, also spoke at the rally. She shared her experience being Ukrainian living in the United States, while her family was still in Kyiv on the day Russia initially invaded Ukraine.
    “That day when the war started I was here and my family was in Kyiv…that was terrible and devastating for me,” Zimina said. “They needed to leave their home and move to the West part of Ukraine. My country is destroyed.”
    Now, one month since that first day of the invasion, Zimina said the situation on the grounds in Ukraine is only worsening.
    “People, they don’t have access to food, they drink water from rivers, they are dying and it’s devastating for me to observe this genocide of Ukrainian people,” Zimina said.
    Cornell student and Ukrainian, Olga Zimina giving her speech on the Commons at the rally
    Other local Ukrainians were also open to share the devastation they’re feeling, many of which have family members and friends still in Ukraine.
    Natalia Bobkoff is one Ukranian who has been living in Ithaca, NY for three years now. She came to the United States from Ukraine after getting married. All of Bobkoff’s family is still in Ukraine. She shared the events that took place in Ukraine in her native city at the same time as the rally on the Commons.
    “During today’s event here on the Commons when we were praying all together for peace, at that moment there were two missiles into my native city and my family in three generations was sitting in bomb shelters at that very time,” Bobkoff said.
    Bobkoff also described what it’s like living in the United States as a Ukrainian while her family remains in Ukraine. She says the fear she feels everyday is currently a feeling felt by all Ukrainians worldwide amid the war.

    “We live here in the United States, but I believe that all the Ukrainians do not sleep more than like 3 hours [of] the day because in the middle of the night we understand that it is the beginning of day in Ukraine and we call and see the news, what happened, are those, I mean our families and friends safe? Are they survived that night?,” Bobkoff said.

    Natalia Bobkoff, holding the flag of her country, Ukraine, at the rally/vigil on the Commons.
    Kateryna is another Ukranian who lives in Ithaca who attended the rally. Kateryna is originally from the city of Kharkov in Eastern Ukraine. She also still has relatives in Ukraine. She described the situation on the ground in Kharkov one month into the war in Ukraine.
    “I speak with my relatives, I have relatives, everyday to know they are safe, if they live because they live in Kharkov, it’s East Ukraine and its border with Russia,” Kateryna said. “You don’t know what tomorrow holds, because for example today they put 60 bombs to Kharkov.”
    Svitlama Sherepera is also Ukrainian and has been living in Ithaca for 15 years now. Sherepera is originally from Chernivtsi, a city in Western Ukraine. Her brother and father are still in Ukraine.
    “They say it’s terrible. Every hour they have to go to basement and all these bombs and attacks,” Sherepera said.

    Sherepera also joined Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy in urging the world to implement a no-fly zone to be imposed in Ukraine’s airspace.
    A no-fly zone would be enforced by NATO and would ultimately mean that Russia’s superior air power could not be used against Ukrainians. However, it would also mean that Kyiv would not be able to fly its fighter jets and attack drones against the Russians.
    Sherepera on the Commons after the rally holding up a “Close the skies over Ukraine” sign, as well as a Ukrainian flag

    Rally Held Amid the Ongoing Refugee Crisis Coming from Ukraine

    The rally also came the same day the Biden Administration announced a plan to welcome up to 100,000 Ukrainians and others fleeing the war-torn country into the United States.

    As to the refugee crisis coming out of Ukraine, Ukrainians in Ithaca are asking for the Ithaca community to do whatever they can to help. Bobkoff described the situation on the grounds in Ukraine, with people having to evacuate their homes amid the ongoing bombing and shellings in the country.
    “There are 10 million people, it’s like a fourth of the population of Ukraine who have had to leave their houses,” Bobkoff said. “Half of the kids of Ukraine now are refugees…I hope that all the people here in Ithaca as well, we can be strong and we can do a lot to save Ukraine and help Ukrainian people and to struggle for peace.”

    Organizing the Vigil/Rally

    Marjorie Hoffman is an Ithaca resident and is also on the board of Area Congregations Together, the organization responsible for organizing the rally/vigil. When it comes to the organizational effort that went into the rally, Hoffman said the hardest part of making the rally possible was getting approval from Ithaca City Hall to hold the event in the Commons.
    “You need a permit to have an event at the Pavillion on the Commons and you’re supposed to put your application in two weeks at least before,” Hoffman said. “So it was very hard to contact someone. Finally, one of our committee members was successful.”
    Hoffman also shared why she thinks it was important that Area Congregations Together held this event.
    “Area Congregations was really the perfect organization to run such an event,” Hoffman said. “It’s all good people wanting to help others coming together. I hope we’ll make an impact on Ukrainians so that they know that we as a community care about what’s happening. I think that’s the biggest point that people should know that people just here in this Central New York place care.”
    Jami Breedlove-Crouch also helped to organize the event with Area Congregations Together. Breedlove-Crouch shared the main message she hopes people will take away from the rally.
    “We just want the Ukrainian people to know that we love them and support them and that we are just holding them in prayer and supporting them in any way that we can,” Breedlove-Crouch said.

    What You Can Do to Help

    All the Ukrainians in attendance at the rally had one common message to share with the greater community here in Ithaca, as well as beyond.
    “I’m thankful to everyone who comes to pray for Ukrainians and support Ukrainians, who have Ukrainians in their hearts because every word, every prayer, every thought it gives Ukrainians protection and support,” Sherepera said. “Now, we just ask to the world to help…I wish that everyone can do what they can do to help and I will be thankful.”

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