Community members gathered in Soldotna on Saturday afternoon to demonstrate their support for Ukraine, just over a week after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched an invasion of the nation.
Saturday’s vigil and march was organized by the central peninsula’s Many Voices social justice advocacy group, headed by Michele Vasquez and Susie Smalley. Folks gathered at Christ Lutheran Church in Soldotna and, donning crocheted Ukrainian sunflowers and signs of support, marched to the “Y” intersection at the corner of the Sterling and Kenai Spur highways.
Vasquez said that after seeing different demonstrations around the state she wanted to host an event so people could stand in solidarity with Ukraine.
“Putin thinking he can invade another sovereign country and just steal the country and kill the people, I mean we’re talking war crimes and just unbelievable suffering and it’s just unbelievable that this is happening,” she said.
Putin deployed Russian troops to Ukraine on Feb. 24, in an attempt to annex the country. Since then, Russian forces have attacked Ukrainian communities with missiles and artillery in an effort to seize control of major cities. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his government have issued pleas for military support from the U.S. and NATO and urged Ukrainians to resist the Russian incursion, the Associated Press has reported.
The war has led to a humanitarian crisis in the country, with fears of food shortages and a surge of refugees leaving the country. The International Organization for Migration says the number of people who have left Ukraine since fighting began has now reached 1.45 million, the Associated Press reported Saturday.
Vasquez said a vigil and march were just one thing she and the Many Voices group could do.
“I’ve talked to a lot of people; we just feel helpless,” she said. “So the only thing that we can do, I believe, at this point is show our support for Ukraine and the people of Ukraine and that we’re with them. We’re standing with them.”
Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly President Brent Johnson came to the vigil Saturday. He said seeing the war in Ukraine unfold has been upsetting.
He said he felt “heartache over the Ukrainians” and that he wants to support them and “spread love for them.”
Johnson said he remembers watching the news during the time of the Vietnam War in the mid-1950s, but likened Putin’s aggression in Ukraine to World War II.
“I grew up watching Vietnam, but somehow that was so different. I graduated just probably two years short of the draft, otherwise, I probably would have been drafted,” Johnson said. “There’s been a lot of horrible wars, but this is more like World War II than Vietnam in my mind.”
John Kasukonis also came to the vigil Saturday, and said he wanted to support the Quaker virtue of peace for Ukraine.
“We want to see peace in the world and this is a step in the wrong direction, a hideous step in the wrong direction,” he said.
Kasukonis drew similarities to demonstrating for unity during the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.
“I was out on the street (demonstrating) when the U.S. invaded Iraq. We’re against war, period,” he said.
Kasukonis said he was there on behalf of both he and his wife, who couldn’t make it, demonstrating both of their support for Ukraine.
“As a Quaker I stand in solidarity with Ukraine,” he said.
Kasukonis said he hoped people can become more united during this period of conflict.
“War does tend to unify people one way or another,” he said. “It can’t be happening again. And it does because people, human (and) political institutions have a really bad tendency to fight, to grab, to dominate. We try to bring out the other part, to see the light.”