By Anne W. Semmes
A burst of yellow and blue colors of the Ukrainian flag displayed by rally goers radiated in a crowd of nearly 200 gathered before Greenwich’s Town Hall at a press conference organized last Tuesday noon in support of Ukraine. Standing tall in her Ukrainian yellow coat before the gathering was organizer Olga Litvinenko, former Miss Connecticut, USA 2017, Greenwich resident, and Ukrainian native.
“This situation that has risen in Ukraine has been devastating,” began Litvinenko. “And we have all been watching and wondering what can we do to help with everybody who is either escaping Ukraine, currently stuck in Ukraine, and what can we do as Americans.”
To that end, Litvinenko had lined up an impressive list of state and local leaders to address the harsh Ukrainian realities before the rally, including a zoom talk from Senator Richard Blumenthal speaking from Washington, D.C.
Before her were rally goers of Ukrainian descent from Greenwich and surrounding areas, as well as those wishing to stand up for the Ukrainian people in their desperate fight for their freedom from the Russian invasion. Many of them were sharing with others why they were there.
“The reason we’re here is that we are fellow human beings,” said Joe Kantorski who heads the Byram Neighborhood Association. “And we care very much about the people in Ukraine, and we are all really connected.” With his wife, they both intoned, “We all love peace.”
Standing nearby was a Greenwich resident with Russian heritage not wanting to use her name. “These are my brothers and sisters – Russians, Ukrainians, and Belorussians.” But now her country of Russia was fighting against Ukraine. “So, I’m very much against it. We are all devastated. And we don’t know what to do. People are trying to go on the streets, but they are arrested right away.”
“I am the granddaughter of North Korean refugees,” was how State Representative Kimberly Fiorello addressed the crowd.
“And my whole life I have known that liberty hangs in a balance…The Ukrainian people do not deserve the misery that is being brought upon them by Putin’s forces. I stand with all the citizens of Connecticut who are in awe of the determination of Ukrainian patriots who are doing everything they can to push back against the violence.”
To help stop Putin’s aggression, Fiorello offered, “The U.S. Senate which has purview of international affairs had multiple opportunities to sanction the Northstream two pipelines to break Putin’s hold on the European energy market. And they failed to do that. It should not take a hot war to do something that is obvious.”
State Senator Ryan Fazio noted the “bravery and patriotism” of the Ukrainian people. “Men and women both too old and too young to fight… take up arms in defense of their country. Fathers tearfully say goodbye to their children who flee the country.” He then gave witness to Ukrainian history.
“This year will mark the 90th anniversary of the Holodomor, where the Soviet Union under Stalin starved millions of Ukrainians to death during agricultural collectivization. Their country didn’t ever gain independence until 1991. Yet, the Ukrainian people show perseverance despite the historical crimes faced by their ancestors.”
Co-host of the press conference was Dr. Inna Lazar, optometrist from Old Greenwich. Addressing the invasion of her native country had her on the verge of tears with the messages she’s receiving. “People in Ukraine are absolutely horrified now. I have many friends and family members who are still in Ukraine. Sorry it’s very difficult for me to talk as I am about to cry.”
Senator Blumenthal spoke on screen from Washington, D.C. giving particularly fierce testimony on the plight of Ukraine. His describing Putin as “a thug” and “a war criminal” brought an outbreak of applause. He spelled out the current efforts in Washington to impose crippling sanctions on Putin, and penalties on Russia, then added, “We need to do more.”
Congressman Jim Himes wrote in of his focus being on Congress and the Biden administration “to secure funding, aid, and arms for the Ukrainian people as well as impose serious sanctions on the Russian economy, shutting down their ability to bank or do business with the rest of the world.” He emphasized the importance of working closely with our allies, “especially NATO and the European Union. Together, we stand a much better chance of bringing this conflict to a swift end and saving as many lives as possible.”
But it was Jaroslaw Palylyk, president of the Ukrainian Congress Committee from its Westchester branch, who shared the most urgent pleas for what needs to be done to save innocent lives in Ukraine.
“NATO states that a no-fly zone would be an unacceptable escalation with Russia. Does that policy still stand if Putin goes full scale like he did in Aleppo, Syria and Grozny Chechnya, where he killed the innocent civilian population to gain control of these areas…Are we going to wait until the hospitals, maternity wards, and orphanages get destroyed?”
His pleas included, “Tell President Biden and the US government to stop purchasing Russian oil…We must remove Russia from the UN Security Council…International courts must condemn Putin and adopt procedures to sentence Putin as a war criminal and for crimes against humanity…We must block Russian airlines, sea cargo, and other companies from using airports, seaports and international trade routes around the world…Social Media Networks must burn communication coming out of Russia.”
Lastly, he urged the boycotting of Russian products, such as Russian vodka. “As a start, each of you today can go to a bar or restaurant that you frequent and ask the owner manager to remove any Russian vodka in solidarity with Ukraine and its people.”
The press conference ended with thanks coming from First Selectman Fred Camillo to Olga Litvinenko and Dr. Inna Lazar, “and everybody who came out here today.” He added, “When you’re on your knees tonight, or lay your head on the pillow, please remember what everybody is going through in Ukraine.”
“And now,” said Litvinenko, “I’m going to play the Ukrainian national anthem as we stand by our flags in solidarity together and have a few silent moments of prayer and thoughts for Ukraine.”
Postscript: Those wishing to contribute humanitarian support were directed to three organizations, Ukrainian Congress Committee of American, Razom for Ukraine, and Revived Soldiers Ukraine.