Weekend of Brighton Beach rallies call for end of Ukraine war

Russians for Ukraine rally/protest at the Riegelmann Boardwalk at the Brighton 6th entrance, on Brighton Beach. Taken on March 20, 2022, in Brooklyn, New York . (Photo by Erica Price)
Locals gather at the Brighton Sixth Street entrance to the Riegelmann Boardwalk on March 20 to stand in solidarity with Ukraine.
Photo by Erica Price

Hundreds of people from Russia, Ukraine, Georgia and Kazakhstan took to the Riegelmann Boardwalk in Brighton Beach on Sunday to stand with residents of Ukraine — just one day after a similar showing of support in one of the Russian diaspora’s largest communities outside of eastern Europe.

The March 20 protest was organized by a group called For Freedom in Russia, which bills itself on social media as a means to “fight the Putin regime.”

Organizer Alexander Korzun told Brooklyn Paper the rally was important for two reasons.

“First, this war is horrible and it should be stopped as soon as possible,” he said, noting the humanitarian crisis in cities such as Mariupol, Kyiv and Kharkiv, where bombs are dropping daily. “People are dying, civilians and children are under fire in Ukraine.”

Protesters called for the imprisonment of Russian President Vladimir Putin.Photo by Erica Price

Secondly, Korzun said “Russian people should not be silent now.”

“As Russians we do want to say that we are strongly against this war, we condemn [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s aggression and those who support this war. And we stand with Ukraine,” he said. “Russia is turning into totalitarian dictatorship — and that’s a horrible development, too — so a lot of people in Russia can’t express their opinion now. Yet still we use an opportunity to speak freely here in New York to say that Russian people can’t or afraid to say.”

Just the day before, RUSA LGBTQ+, a local community of queer Russian speakers and immigrants from former parts of the Soviet Union, organized its own march and rally along the boardwalk. Marchers stepped off from the Coney Island section of the boardwalk and walked east to Brighton Beach, stopping several times to sing and dance to Ukrainian music.

Members of RUSA LGBTQ+ march along the Riegelmann Boardwalk in support of Ukraine on Saturday, March 19.Photo by Matt Tracy

As the march progressed, chants of “No Putin, no war!” and “Get out of Ukraine!” reverberated down the boardwalk — rare sounds in an otherwise sleepy neighborhood — and pedestrians frequently stopped to record videos or clap along. The marchers, including many Ukrainians, also repeated the controversial demand to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine — something the United States and other western countries have strongly opposed due to the risks of a global war.

Similar calls and chants were made Sunday, as the invasion overseas continued to escalate.

A Russian man proclaims he is for peace at Sunday’s rally.Photo by Erica Price

In a sea of Ukrainian blue-and-yellow flags — and posters calling for the imprisonment of Putin — stood many white flags with a center blue stripe. This “so-called Russian anti-war flag,” Korzun said, is reminiscent of a “Russian flag without blood.”

“This flag is already banned in Russia but for us it’s a symbol of freedom, peace, and responsibility to stop this bloody chapter of Russian history,” he told Brooklyn Paper.

Signs and flags flew high, including a blue and white flag symbolic of Russia’s anti-war movement.Photo by Erica Price

This weekend was not the first in which southern Brooklynites took to the streets to decry the war.

Scores of locals massed at Asser Levy Park on Feb. 27 draped in the nation’s yellow-and-blue flags to show their support to a country under siege. Yet another large gathering in support of Ukraine took place on March 6 on the historic boardwalk connecting Coney Island and Brighton Beach.

Among those who have shown support for the local rallies are newly elected southern Brooklyn Councilmembers Ari Kagan and Inna Vernikov, both of whom have eastern European roots.

Kagan, who immigrated from Belarus in 1993 and represents Bensonhurst, Coney Island, Gravesend, and Sea Gate in the City Council, has publicly condemned the invasion and said that it was “unprovoked aggression” against a peaceful neighbor.

Speaking Saturday on the boardwalk, his calls for resolution received resounding applause.

A woman draped in a Ukrainian flag.Photo by Erica Price

Councilmember Inna Vernikov, whose neighboring district also includes a large number of Ukrainian immigrants, and who herself immigrated from Ukraine at a young age, has similarly condemned the invasion, and said her office will be open to assist anyone in need.

While she wasn’t in attendance at this weekend (the newly minted rep instead accepted an invitation to meet with former President Donald Trump), Vernikov appeared to keep her constituents in mind over the course of her visit, despite the former leader’s ties to Putin.

“Grateful to have met with President Trump,” she tweeted Sunday. “He expressed his solidarity with the people of Ukraine [and] sent prayers and love for my constituents from Ukraine.”

Brighton Beach has earned the nickname “Little Odessa,” owing to its population and its perch near the beach, just as the moniker’s Ukrainian namesake.

Additional reporting by Ben Brachfeld and Matt Tracy