Amid the ongoing Russian war on Ukraine, last Thursday about 45 people demonstrated in support of Ukraine at Wisdom, Knowledge, Faith and Love Park. Several people displayed homemade blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flags. Others held signs that said “nyet voyny” (“no to war” in Russian), “We stand for Ukraine” and “Borscht not bombs.”
Art Koeninger helped organize the event. He said he got inspired to hold a local demonstration against the war and in support of the Ukrainian and Russian people after seeing a news story about Russian police arresting five children and their mothers for their antiwar protest at the Ukrainian embassy in Moscow.
“They had that ‘no war’ sign and then the flowers,” Koeninger said. “… If those kids can stand up, you know, it’s the least we can do. If not us, who? If not now, when?”
Koeninger made four flags carried at the demonstration from a bedspread and sheets he found at a local thrift store. A friend, Sara Berg, sewed the flags. Making those flags also motivated Koeninger to organize the protest.
“It’s like, well, I need a crowd,” he said. “That was it.”
Koeninger said he wanted the protest also to show support for Russians affected by the actions of “Czar Putin” — Koeninger’s moniker for Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin.
“There’s thousands of protesters in Russia that don’t want this, and the (Russian) soldiers in Ukraine that thought they were on maneuvers and found out they were invading somebody,” he said. “They’re shutting down their tanks and walking away or turning in their arms. And so I’m supporting them.”
Ginger Drais, who held the sign that said “no to war,” circulated among the protesters and signed up people to continue vigils over the next week at WKFL Park. She explained why she had joined the demonstration.
“Man’s inhumanity against man and the planet,” she said. “… We have to stand up and say it matters. I mean, my God, we live on this planet. We live and breathe and have the same blood.”
An 18-year-old Connections high school student, Alexis Schneider, said she joined the demonstration after seeing it announced on social media.
“I thought this was a really good cause, and I would like peace in the world and not warfare,” she said.
At the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Putin put Russian nuclear forces on high alert, heightening fears that the war could escalate into a nuclear showdown. Russian attacks on nuclear power plants also raised alarms about radioactive leaks.
Schneider said that caused her concern.
“I thought we were fine. I never thought we were going to have to go into a World War III,” she said. “… That would just be devastating to earth. I mean, with the climate change it’s already such a crisis that nobody seems to really make a fuss about as much, and then if nuclear war happened, you might as well forget about earth, honestly.”
The courage of the Ukrainian people in resisting the invasion inspired him, Koeninger said.
“It’s the grandmas who stand out in front of the (Russian) soldiers and give them sunflower seeds to put in their pockets so when they’re dead, the sunflowers are up out of their graves. And the people standing in front of the tanks and people taking down the street signs. It’s a lot of will on the part of the Ukrainian people.”
Schneider said she has friends in the military.
“I think they’re probably worried about maybe having to go and fight the war,” she said. “… If it comes to the U.S. or any of the other countries having to send troops, it would be devastating. It’s already devastating what’s happening. I’m just really sad. And then to be such a young age going into this world, it’s really difficult to know what my future is going to be like.”