Protests against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine erupted during marches and candlelight vigils across California on Saturday, with many demonstrators expressing concern for loved ones in the war-torn country 6,000 miles away.
About 100 Ukrainian Americans and Russian Americans who opposed the invasion marched through Hollywood at around 10 a.m. with placards reading “Stop Putin.” Several families with young children were among the many who waved and shouted encouragement at the group from their balconies down Hollywood Boulevard.
“Putin doesn’t speak for us,” Erina Volodartseva, 32, a Russian mother of two (ages 6 and 4) remarked. The war is something that we strongly oppose. “Ukraine is a part of our family.”
One of Samvel Torosyan’s buddies in the Russian military is a fighter pilot, and he communicates with him frequently via text message. Speaking as he passed businesses and restaurants on the avenue, Torosyan—who is also Russian—told me that “they are terrified.”
During Saturday’s march, Torosyan expressed concern that the United States would start a nuclear war by sending its own troops into Ukraine.
When asked about Russian aggression, Torosyan responded simply, “I just want it to stop.”
This “strange circumstance” is what Diana Leli, a Ukrainian flag draped around her shoulders, remarked. “It’s ridiculous,” she continued.
Leli, a Valley Village resident, said she arrived in the United States two years ago from Ukraine. A LA Times reporter was able to see texts from her mother and other family members in that country that she sends via a group messaging program she uses.
It was revealed to Leli that her mother, who is 78 years old and lives in Zaporizhia, comes from Ukraine’s southeast. It has recently been reported that at least three border guards were shot dead in the area.
The news coming out of Russia doesn’t have much weight with Leli, who expressed her wish that Putin would step down. “We’re on edge.”
Drivers on Santa Monica and Sepulveda boulevards honked their horns in support of the dozens of protesters who had assembled in Westwood, waving Ukrainian flags and screaming “Save Ukraine” and “Glory to Ukraine.”
Moreover, half of the protesters were Ukrainian-Americans, but others came from countries as far apart as Lithuania and Taiwan. Chuck Olynyk, 65, a Ukrainian-American and retired history teacher, has been following the Russian invasion all week, he said.
A distraught Olynyk stated, “I’m heartbroken” “I’ve had to leave the television and go to the garage to get things done.”
Olynyk claims to still have relatives in Ukraine, but that he hasn’t spoken to them in years. He prays for their safety. They were all born there, he claimed, but his parents and sister are no longer alive.
According to him, “They would have been heartbroken to see this.”
Olynyk said he was happy to see Ukrainians take to the streets in defense of their country. A video of an elderly Ukrainian woman handing out sunflower seeds to Russian soldiers moved him particularly.
A tearful Olynyk added, “She instructed them to put the seeds in their pockets so that at the very least, sunflowers will grow when they die.” “Ukraine’s national flower is the sunflower,” as the saying goes.
Tarzana resident Igor Alksnin posed with a pal and a Ukrainian flag in his hands. As a native of Ukraine, Alksnin said he felt compelled to speak out on behalf of his motherland.
“That’s the least I can do,” he added. “I’m here to ask for help on their behalf.”
He expressed concern for his stepfather, who is still in Ukraine’s capital city of Kyiv, saying he was frightened about him. On the phone with him earlier, he indicated things were going well; the man was still living in his flat. For Alksnin, his grandson is serving in the military, and he’s concerned about him.
He promised to pray fervently for him.
Gana Hovey, 37, stood on Sepulveda Boulevard with a sign reading, “Putin must stop.” A U.S. citizen, Hovey added that her parents live in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, which has been bombarded along with numerous others.
Three days ago, she said, “My folks have been living in a bomb shelter.” It gives me such a sense of relief when they tell me everything is calm. “I just want to hear that everything is quiet,” you say.
Leonardo, Hovey’s 7-year-old son, was sitting on a bus bench nearby waving a miniature American flag.
This time, she says, he’d like to see his grandmother one more time. It’s been a while since I’ve heard from her, and now I’m lost.”
It’s been three days since Hovey last slept, according to her. She expressed her gratitude that she can still connect with her parents. Before hanging up, she expressed her hope that it wouldn’t be the last time.
There were hundreds of people in Orangevale, one of Sacramento’s most Ukrainian neighborhoods, who prayed outside a Ukrainian church on Saturday morning.
With her phone in her hand, Valentyna Halazetdinova, 69, looked at it with scared eyes.
Her children in the Ukrainian town of Vinnytsya, near Kyiv, texted her images of their grandchildren Yanna, 5, and Zlata, 4, playing in a bomb shelter while dressed in brilliantly colorful clothes.
In a torrent of words, Svetlana Ivantsov, 36, the daughter of Halazetdinova, explained how photographs of her siblings in bomb shelters poured into her phone night after night. “It is very painful to witness,” she said.
The mother and daughter, who were in Sacramento at the time, responded with messages of support and well-wishes. But they were helpless in the face of it all. Since their country was at war, they’d gone to the Spring of Life Ukrainian Baptist Church to sing and pray with the hundreds of other Ukrainian immigrants who’d also come to comfort one another.
According to Vlad Skots, executive director of Ukrainian American House, a non-profit dedicated to fostering cultural and economic ties between the United States and Ukraine, the greater Sacramento area is home to around 100,000 Ukrainians.
Mayor Darrell Steinberg, Senator Alex Padilla, and several state legislators attended the ceremony on Saturday.
Attendees drank coffee and ate pastries, pickles, and samsas, a type of pork dumpling from Ukraine, under a large Ukrainian flag in a courtyard. Hugs and wide eyes greeted each other as individuals made their way to the churchyard, which was crowded with people who had parked miles away and walked to the celebration.
Throughout the day, pastors from across the region conducted prayers, politicians spoke, and the crowd sang.
The standing room only heard Padilla’s words of solidarity. There has been an attack on democracy, he claimed, as a result of the “brutal and unwarranted acts” that have taken place throughout the country.
In addition, he vowed his assistance in what he called “the largest humanitarian disaster in Europe since World War II.
Many of those who joined Padilla in prayer at the church stated they had family members who were either planning to flee to Poland or had already started the process of doing so.
One of Paul Holovatyi’s brothers lives right next to the airport in Lutsk, and his room is constantly filled with the sound of gunfire because of their proximity to the airport. According to him, “the youngsters are quite afraid.” he remarked.
Demonstrations came at the same time as Ukraine’s military attempted to hang on to the capital, Kyiv, as Russian troops marched into the city’s outer suburbs on Saturday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appeared in a video made on a street in Kyiv to show that he hadn’t given up on the city and encouraged his people to fight back.
‘We’re not going to put down our firearms. Zelensky said, “We will defend the country.” “This is our land, our country, and our future generations depend on it. “And we’re going to fight for all of it.”
Tens of thousands of Ukrainians have fled to the west in the three days since the Russians began their massive air, land, and sea attack. Ukrainians have also taken up arms in response to Zelensky’s appeal, in what is Europe’s largest land conflict since World War II, to fight back against the Russian assault.
Reporters Jessica Garrison from Sacramento, Jessica Smith from Los Angeles, and Ruben Vives from Los Angeles all contributed to this report.