The Binghamton community rallied for Ukraine outside the Broome County Courthouse on Saturday.
Around 130 people attended the gathering, which included an interfaith prayer service, speeches from local activists, live music and appearances from elected officials. The rally was organized to “express support for Ukraine in its fight for freedom, democracy and justice on the one-year anniversary of the unprovoked full-scale Russian invasion in Ukraine,” according to a press release from the Together for Ukraine Foundation. The organization was formed in 2014 as a response to Ukraine’s growing needs in medical and humanitarian aid.
The Russian military invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022 in an attempt to prevent Ukraine from joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), according to the BBC. The war has continued for a year with a current estimate of 8,006 civilian deaths and 13,287 civilians injured, according to Statista. In 2022, U.S. President Joe Biden created the “Unite for Ukraine” program, which allows Americans to sponsor Ukrainian citizens and expedite visa applications for asylum seekers.
Anatoliy Pradun, president of the Together for Ukraine Foundation, opened with a tribute to Ukrainian lives lost during the war effort, also recognizing networks that have emerged to help survivors.
“We remember the people that [have] sacrificed so much,” Pradun said. “Lots of lives were lost in this war. Lots of people gave to the many refugees [and] this conflict has really connected people all over the world.”
After, participants lit candles while religious leaders offered prayers for Ukraine and the victims of the conflict. An interfaith coalition was present, which included clergy from the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic churches who gave a panakhyda — a service that remembers the deceased in the Eastern traditions — rabbis from local temples, an imam representing the local Islamic community and the executive director of the Broome County Council of Churches.
Elected officials, including New York State Senator Lea Webb, Broome County Executive Jason Garnar and Johnson City Mayor Martin Meaney, were invited to demonstrate collaboration between activists and the government. Garner described the continuing sympathy the local community has for Ukraine.
“I stood beside you a year ago committing Broome County’s unwavering support of Ukraine and its people, and I stand here again to reiterate that support,” Garner said. “I’m so proud of all that our neighbors have done to help and give back. I sincerely hope that we won’t have to stand here again next year, but I am committed to standing here with all of you as long as it takes.”
Angelica Romanova and Natalia Vaschenko, both recently sponsored Ukrainian refugees, gave testimony about living through the invasion. They described living without basic necessities, like heat and running water, as well as the violence of the frontlines and atrocities perpetrated by the Russian army in their hometowns of Mariupol and Bucha. At the Munich Security Conference, Vice President Kamala Harris declared that the United States had determined Russia had committed war crimes, including the systemic and “gruesome” targeting of Ukraine’s civilian population through murder and mass executions, torture and rape.
Representatives from community organizations spoke about the steps they took to aid the Ukrainian community. Laila Hernandez, deputy director of the American Civic Association (ACA), elaborated on the immigration services, job training and readiness programs the ACA provides to Ukrainian refugees in pursuit of its mission to “help immigrants and refugees start a new life in our community, while preserving their ethnic and cultural diversity.”
Wendy Deis, the district governor-elect of Rotary District #7170, explained how rotary districts from across upstate New York worked together to raise “$19,000 in 30 days” for essential medical supplies, which were sent to Ukraine to treat those wounded in the war.
The rally also included multiple musical exhibitions in a larger tribute to the endurance of Ukrainian culture throughout times of hardship. The Ukrainian Community Choir, composed of many newly arrived child refugees from Ukraine, sang a prayer song and a violin quartet performed a traditional Ukrainian melody. At the end of the event, Taras Hudz, the musical headliner, performed songs from his musical project “To War.”
Mark Pradun, a sophomore majoring in biology at Binghamton University, was among the rally’s attendees. Pradun commended the diversity of the crowd.
“This event from Together For Ukraine was excellent,” Pradun wrote. “Seeing all people from different nationalities and religions come out in support of Ukraine during the one-year anniversary of the war with Russia has impacted me and shows that people still care about the conflict.”
Eliana Hansen, an undeclared freshman, discussed the importance of bringing awareness to those affected by the invasion of Ukraine.
“I think that bringing the community together is very important to bring attention once again to the war that is not happening on our soil,” Hansen said. “It can be very easy to forget that other people are dying while we are safe at home.”