Brighton Beach residents turned out in droves on Sunday with a firm message of support for Ukraine.
Hundreds of people massed at Asser Levy Park in the southern Brooklyn nabe, home to the largest Ukrainian population outside eastern Europe, draped in the nation’s yellow-and-blue flags to show their support to a country under siege, where many people still have family and friends.
“I can no longer be silent,” said Yelena Makhnin, executive director of the Brighton Beach Business Improvement District. “Hundreds of people are dying in Ukraine every day. These are the people we went to school with, these are our family members.”
Under the direction of President Vladimir Putin, Russia’s armed forces invaded the country’s neighbor to the west on Feb. 24. Ukrainian cities have been under a constant bombardment for the past several days as Putin attempts to wrest control of the country that became independent from Russia upon the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. Hundreds of casualties, civilian and soldier, have been reported, and hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced or left voluntarily, fleeing to the country’s borders with Poland, Hungary, and other nations.
The invasion has been condemned internationally, and support has been flowing to Ukraine in a variety of ways. But few outside of Ukraine feel the pain from the invasion as deeply as those living in Brighton Beach, which is sometimes called “Little Odessa” owing to its large Ukrainian population and location by the beach.
“Ukraine became a symbol of fighting for democracy and freedom,” said Angela Kravtchenko, a local activist and Ukrainian immigrant. “We are staying united with all Ukrainian people. Stop the war!”
Demonstrators cried, sang Ukrainian songs, and prayed for a swift and peaceful end to the conflict. The two sides engaged in peace talks on Monday, but the talks appear to have accomplished little, as aerial bombardments continued after the conclusion of talks and the Russian armed forces continue to march on Kyiv.