A sea of blue and yellow enveloped Five Corners in Vineyard Haven on Saturday as dozens of Islanders gathered to show their support for the people of Ukraine. Passing cars honked approval for the crowd, many of whom stood holding the colors of the Ukrainian flag, many holding up signs expressing the urgency to support those affected by the ongoing humanitarian crisis unfolding in Eastern Europe.
Holly Mackenzie and Carla Cooper, both longtime Vineyarders and active officers of the Democratic Council of Martha’s Vineyard (MV Dems) helped coordinate the nonpartisan, unsponsored demonstration. It’s about supporting the community, said Mackenzie: “We live on an island, but we are not an island.”
This notion of working to broaden views of community to incorporate people and nations worldwide in times of conflict and precarity added an indisputable depth to the atmosphere of Saturday’s gathering. “Energy begets energy,” said Deborah Medders, who carried with her a sign reading “For Democracy.”
Dan Doyle, New York native turned Vineyard resident, stood with his young son Lorenzo, who held up a sign of his own stating, “You got this, Ukraine.”
Rally co-coordinator Iya Labunka addressed the crowd from a small platform; microphone in one hand, and a framed black and white photograph in the other. The photograph, taken in the mid-1940s, is of her mother standing in the snowy woods of rural Ukraine bearing arms as a resistance fighter in the Ukrainian underground.
Labunka is a film producer and Vineyard resident whose family ties motivated her to organize the local gathering to vehemently express solidarity and show moral support for the people of Ukraine. The daughter of Ukrainian freedom fighters and World War II refugees, Labunka is American-born, but carries with her the burden of her family’s intergenerational opposition to constant conflict in Eastern Europe. “To have my first cousins have to take up guns again in this fight, that Ukranians have been fighting for hundreds of years, is heartbreaking,” Labunka says. “It’s just madness. That’s the only way to describe it.”
Ten days after Russia launched its full-fledged invasion on Ukraine, the world continues to bear witness to the intensifying humanitarian crisis, which seems to have no end in sight. According to the U.N., as of March 5, neighboring and nearby countries have granted temporary protection to more than 1.3 million refugees, an estimated 3 percent of the country’s population. As Russia rapidly amps up its army’s advances by gaining footholds in key Ukrainian cities, violating ceasefire agreements, and strategically hindering transportation out of Ukraine, the global community watches in real time what may soon become one of the largest refugee crises in the past century.
On Friday, Russia gained control over Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station, sparking fear of another Chernobyl, and prompting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to call out the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in a video address for its lack of military support, demanding allied assistance in responding to the attacks with “decisive action.”
“The first line of the Ukrainian anthem is ‘Ukraine is not dead yet,’” said Labunka. “They just keep going; as occupiers, marauders, and aggressors keep trying to wipe them out over and over again. This is a distinct culture with a distinct history and a distinct language. I speak Ukrainian because of the determination of my parents to keep this culture, this language, and this identity alive.”
As events in Eastern Europe unfold, many Americans are experiencing a pervasive helplessness, looking for ways to show their support for the people of Ukraine in any way they can. One of the most important things Americans can do is to keep pressure on our elected representatives, says Labunka, to fight to help send aid and support to displaced refugees and for the restoration of Ukrainian sovereignty. “They listen. Especially if there is a groundswell [of opinion]. We need to steel ourselves and support people who are fighting for self-determination and for democracy. These are lionhearted people who have continuously, against all odds, chosen democracy. So show your support, and make it known that we abhor aggression and we stand with the Ukrainian people.”
A pamphlet handed out to those at the event urged donations to RAZOM for Ukraine, World Central Kitchen, NOVA Ukraine, and Global Empowerment Mission.