Behind the Photos: “Stand with Ukraine” Rally at the Michigan State Capitol

Yuri Tomkiw, a senior neuroscientist, is the president of the Michigan State Ukrainian Student Organization, or USO. On March 1, the USO held a “Stand with Ukraine Rally” at the University and hosted a webinar with the former US Ambassador to Ukraine, so people can stay more informed.

“I just want people to educate themselves about it,” Tomkiw said. “And just make sure people know they can come out and support and sign the petitions and go to their local (people) convention or go to their local senators and talk to them just so it can go up the food chain. “

Tomkiw was born in America and is of Ukrainian culture. Because of COVID-19 and now war, he was never able to travel to his home country. He said many of the speakers at the event were people he grew up with: his teachers, family and friends.

Tomkiw wants people to understand that even though it is Ukraine that is suffering now, it is not just a Ukrainian problem.

“It’s not going to stop with Ukraine,” Tomkiw said. “You have a power-hungry ruler who is just looking to take land he thinks is his and he obviously meets a lot of resistance. But what if he turns to a higher power arsenal to achieve his goals? This will not only affect Ukraine. I think world leaders need to see that this conflict will involve them and there is no point sitting around trying to avoid something that has already happened.

Donna Riley


Lansing resident Donna Riley wrote the petition to open the borders to “our homeless neighbors.” The petition reads as follows:

“Unlike our neighbors to the north, expedited visas have not been implemented in the United States. Ukrainians fleeing the war, regardless of age, and who do not have family members in the United States United States are allowed to enter the United States ONLY after going through the slow bureaucratic process of applying for visas. However, this does not give refugees (de) permanence. According to the National Law Review (March 19, 2022), “…war and widespread violence (does not) in itself provide asylum to refugees”, as there are many restrictions and rules that protect our nation’s borders. .

Under current immigration policy, the number of Ukrainians allowed to come to the United States with refugee status is only 10,000, which is a fraction of the more than 3 million, mostly women and children, who fled their homeland with only what they could carry. . The countries bordering Ukraine temporarily suspended the appropriate documentation and welcomed their neighbors with open arms. Now they are about to implode because of the millions of people who have crossed their borders.

it behooves us as Americans to open our hearts and our borders to those innocent victims who want to save their children from the carnage of war.”

Riley planned to walk around and add signatures to the petition, which needs 100,000 names in 30 days before it can go to the Senate, but found herself talking to the crowd.

“I’m not a public speaker,” Riley said. “(but) when I read the policy myself, I was outraged, so I said, ‘OK, I’ll talk. “”

All in all, Riley had one thing to ask.

“If war doesn’t guarantee asylum, what does? That’s my question,” Riley said.

US Senator Debbie Stabenow and Irina Bondareko


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Senator Debbie Stabenow spoke at the rally. Stabenow has taken part in several meetings with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky over the past few weeks and pledged to continue to find ways to support Ukraine during this time.

“What we are seeing in Ukraine right now is pure evil,” Stabenow said. “It’s pure evil.”

After Stabenow’s speech, she spoke with many Ukrainian Americans and listened to their stories.

“It’s extremely important,” Stabenow said. “We have over 50,000 Michiganders who are from Ukraine or who have Ukrainian ancestors, or friends and family still there. It’s heartbreaking every minute of every day.

Lansing resident Irina Bondarenko approached Stabenow almost immediately after beginning her descent from the steps of the Capitol.

“For Ukrainians, they want to be a democratic country; they really looked at us, they wanted to be like us,” Bondarenko said. “So in a way we are their dream. So for them, the support, knowing that people here care about them, gives them strength. I can tell your story.

So, immobilized and separated by an ocean, Bondarenko does the only thing she can: tell their stories, want to show that this fight was much closer to home than people in America might have thought before.

“I have a very close friend in Kyiv who didn’t want to evacuate,” Bondarenko said. “Eventually on the day of the State of the Union address, we persuaded her that it was too dangerous. We persuaded her to leave the next morning.

Her friend was not a native English speaker and misunderstood the message conveyed.

“The same night, two hours before her train…she called and texted me,” Bondarenko said. “(She said) I heard President Biden say they’ll cover our skies. I’m not going anywhere. I’m staying in town, Rina.

Bondarenko had to drop her friend.

“I’m sorry, that’s not true (I told him), we don’t cover the sky,” she said. silence on his side, because we are their hope.

As Bondarenko reflected on her friend’s experience, she recalled all the deaths that had ever happened.

“It’s genocide,” she said. “And I know Americans care.”

The hope of rallying, Katya


Katya fled Ukraine in early March. She is one of 3 million people– half of whom are estimated to be children – who had to leave their homeland because of the war. The gatherings, in the eyes of those present and of the whole world, are for children like her.

It has been said that the war in Ukraine is the “first war against Tik Tok”. This extends to social media as a whole, as people turn to Ukrainians’ Instagram and Twitter feeds for live updates and reflect on the reality – and the new normal – of places like Kyiv and of people like Katya. In turn, social media has been used as a weapon to both support and block Ukrainian efforts. In Russia, social networks are going dark. Meta, formerly Facebook, has been branded an ‘extremist’ organization by a Moscow courtand ‘Z’ was used as propaganda weapon much like the swastika was in Nazi Germany.

But in Ukraine, the United States and around the world, sharing photos of rallies has been a way to rekindle hope.

“So if people see the constant posting of events going on, maybe once on the go, ‘Hey, I’m going to attend one of these,'” Tomkiw said. “And if they are not educated, they will either be educated by the speakers at these events by the people attending these events, or they will just learn the pride of the Ukrainian people and the impact of having a lot of people here in the States United States and around the world.


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