Ukrainians and Russians in Tallahassee unite in condemnation of Vladimir Putin's war
Ukrainians and Russians in the United States are watching from afar as Russia wages a war against its neighbor. As the invasion enters a second week, Tallahassee residents with roots in the region say they’re angered, shocked, and saddened by what’s unfolding in Ukraine.
Florida’s historical capital yard often hosts residents who want to bring attention to a cause. Recently, about two dozen people stood in front of the white-columned building, waving blue and yellow flags—the flags of Ukraine. Cars honked in support as they drove by. The group waved back amid cheers, whistles, and chants of "Close the sky! Close the sky!"
“One of the reasons we moved is because his new life had just started, and we wanted opportunities for ourselves," said Elizaveta and Ilya Litvak. Their son's birth was the catalyst for the couple to emigrate to the United States.
"He could be there, right now in Ukraine," said Elizaveta Litvak. The couple's oldest son is 20 and had the family remained in Russia, "because of his age he would be conscripted," and forced to fight in the Russian army, Ilya Litvak said.
Ilya Litvak's family has ties to Ukraine, and he said watching a war unfold in a country the family considers part of their home is unbearable.
Seeking family, seeking shelter
Nadiia Ozerova is from Ukraine. She says Russia's involvement in Ukraine is not a conflict, nor a dispute, or a peacekeeping mission as it’s been described in Russian state media—it is a war.
My friends, with their children they’re in shelters. No child should read and play in shelters. No child should [have to fear] a bombing," said Ozerova.
She's dressed in light blue and yellow—the colors of the Ukrainian flag she holds in her hands.
“My sister at this point, she’s trying to cross the western border to Poland to Slovakia—she’s trying to take every chance to cross the border as a refugee," said Eugene Solyanik. He is from the city of Khahovka in the south of Ukraine. Khahovka was one of the first cities Russia bombed.
“She’s sent me a couple of videos of Russians bombing her city, that’s why they had to escape and are still running from them [Russians],” Solyanik said.
First Crimea, now the rest of Ukraine
Tereska Fillmon has been working in Ukraine for nearly 30 years and runs a charity there. She was there in 2014 when Russia invaded and seized Crimea. And she brought to the rally spent bullet casings and the shattered shells of iron bombs. These are what Russia dropped on Crimea in 2014.
On the cracked head of the black missile is a partial serial number: 5440B...there's a triangle and a rectangle that follow the numbers.
Fillmon's community center in Ukraine is now a shelter.
“It’s open doors to whoever wants to get there and I don’t want to give too much information because, we don’t know who is listening and I have to be careful of the people in the town, my neighbors," she said.
When asked whether she's heard from them, Fillmon replied, "some, not all. One, her mother was killed by a mortar shell."
The funeral, said Fillmon, was a day prior. It was rushed.
Close the sky
The group at this rally say they’re not asking for military help—but they do have a message for American leaders: close the skies above Ukraine to stop Russia from dropping bombs.
"We are losing hundreds and hundreds of lives every day," said Andriy who is from a part of eastern Ukraine that was taken by Russia in 2014. He asked WFSU not publish his whole name in this story.
"Close the sky," said Ozerova. "We will handle everything else. Our army is strong enough now. It's not like it was eight years ago. We are ready."
Ukrainians also want Russia's access to SWIFT to be cut off. SWIFT is a system that allows banks to send money electronically to each other. The U.S. has announced it's blocking some of the largest Russian banks from accessing SWIFT, and other countries are doing the same.
For now, all the people at this rally can do is hope for a quick resolution. They're keeping in contact with family and friends as much as possible and relying on independent media outlets because neither Russia nor Ukraine wants to give away any information that could be used against them.
Official Ukrainian social media channels are also a go-to source for people with ties to both countries, and for those at this rally—they say they're grateful to the foreign reporters still on the ground in Ukraine working to cover a war that's led to broad condemnation of Russian President Vladimir Putin.