© PHOTO NOTE: All the editorial images published here have been posted to the Milwaukee Independent’s Facebook Page. That collection of photos contains the MI copyright and watermark for attribution, and may be used for private social media sharing.

Public protests against Putin’s invasion of Ukraine have continued in Milwaukee and cities across the world, including coordinated rallies on February 27.

A large crowd of pro-Ukrainian demonstrators gathered for a peace rally by the Sunburst sculpture in downtown Milwaukee. Comprised mostly of generations of families from grandparent to grandchild, they called on the United States and governments around the world to tighten economic sanctions on Russia, and offer more military aid to Ukraine.

“Looking at the soldiers and civilians fighting to protect their country, I am proud to call myself Ukrainian,” said Milwaukee resident Halyna Salapata. “We are a proud people, with our own culture, practices, and language. I feel anxious at home and feel as though I am only watching in safety as the rest of my family is in danger. I can only support them thousands of miles away from America. However, even though we are here in the United States, we can still do our part.”

Salapata said that it was her hope that people in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and across the world would go beyond posting a hashtag on social media or giving their thoughts and prayers.

“We need to rally against Russia and show our solidarity to Ukraine through action, not just words. We must stand together and show that not just the people in the land of Ukraine refuse to bow down to Putin’s tyranny, but the rest of the world.”

Earlier in the day, Milwaukee’s religiously diverse Ukrainian community had gathered at St. Michael’s Ukrainian Catholic Church. They prayed for peace, help, and the safety of those family and friends who stood against Russian forces. Even though the United States and other Western powers were taking action against Putin, they remembered Crimea and feared how extreme the latest invasion could go.

“I stand here in this beautiful city with my fellow Ukrainians. And even though I am a second generation Ukrainian, I am still Ukrainian. I honor my grandparents by standing here. They came to America to be able to speak for their country, because they could not do so in their own,” said Dr. Krystia Nora, an English instructor at MATC. “I think it is so powerful to stand together in the winter for Ukrainian people. Eight years ago today, in the Maidan Revolution, millions of Ukrainians – half the population of Kyiv – gathered in the middle of the city to stand for freedom. They stood for months for freedom, until freedom would be given. Months while they were threatened, months while some of them were carted off and disappeared. For months they stood peacefully demanding that their government become part of Europe of the European Union. That was their dream, to become a European free country, free of the strings that Putin so wanted to have on that country.”

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the newly independent nation of Ukraine found itself as the third-largest nuclear power in the world. The Soviet military had left behind thousands of atomic weapons on Ukrainian soil. But by 1994, Ukraine decided to completely denuclearize in exchange for security guarantees from Western nations, primarily the United States and the United Kingdoms. That agreement was known as the Budapest Memorandum.

Russia blatantly violated the Budapest Memorandum when it illegally annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014. It was the first change of internationally recognized borders in Europe through military force since World War II. Putin then proceeded to instigate and fuel armed unrest in eastern Ukraine that has claimed thousands of lives. The February 24 Russian invasion by Putin was a full-scale attack on the sovereignty of Ukraine, designed to decapitate the democratically elected government and install a puppet regime.

“Ukraine is fighting not only for itself, but for the democratic values of state sovereignty and the freedom of national self-determination,” said Catherine Wanner PhD in a statement. “Precisely because Ukraine would like to become a Western-style democratic state ruled by law, the country poses a mortal threat to Putin’s power and to that of his kleptocratic ruling cronies. The world is now witnessing the raw military force deployed to achieve his goal.”

Wanner is an author of six books on Ukraine and Professor of History, Anthropology, and Religious Studies at Pennsylvania State University. She said that having a democratic regime on Russia’s borders might inspire Russians to instigate their own changes. Which was why Putin had demanded Ukraine must remain firmly in Moscow’s orbit, with a puppet government subservient to the whims of a distant dictator.

“Everything you do here matters. Every time you stand up for Ukraine, it matters. Every time you stand up for freedom, it matters. Because, let me tell you, we are all Ukrainians right now,” added Nora. “Vladimir Putin has threatened the entire free world. He has not just threatened Ukraine. He has threatened us all with nuclear war.”

Milwaukee has a small but thriving Ukrainian American community, and Irpin is a sister city. Follow the special coverage by Milwaukee Independent for updates on the Russian invasion, and about how the fight by Ukraine's people to preserve their democracy is having an impact on the families and businesses here in Milwaukee. mkeind.com/ukraine
© Photo

Lee Matz