Milwaukee marked the solemn second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and the 10th anniversary of Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity, with a powerful show of solidarity at O’Donnell Park in downtown on February 24.

City officials, business and faith leaders, and members of the local and Ukrainian communities attended the “Believe in Ukraine” event that underscored Milwaukee’s unwavering support for Ukraine amidst its ten-year struggle for peace.

Hosted by the nonprofit Wisconsin Ukrainians, Inc., Milwaukee joined with cities around the world to stand with the people of Ukraine, who have fought for survival – and the preservation of their sovereignty and culture – since the unprovoked and brutal attack was launched by Russia’s autocratic dictator in 2022, just 8 years after he illegally annexed Ukrainian Crimea.

“Today is not an easy day for Ukrainians by any means. We have been heartsick, but we are not hopeless. Today we stand in solidarity with Ukraine as a part of a global ‘Believe in Ukraine’ campaign with rallies happening in 23 countries and 165 cities – with 72 of those cities being in the United States,” said Karina Tweedell, a Board Member of Wisconsin Ukrainians, Inc.

Despite close to 200 rounds of peace talks between Ukraine and Russia over the past decade, Russian aggression has only intensified. Putin’s invasion not only challenged the territorial integrity of Ukraine, but the very principles of democracy, freedom, and the international rule of law.

“A lot of members of the American public are not aware that the war started 10 years ago, in 2014, when Russia occupied two Eastern regions of Ukraine, including my hometown, and the Crimean peninsula,” added Tweedell.

In 2014, world leaders did not act decisively in response to Russian aggression. Much like how the policy of appeasement did not satisfy Nazi Germany’s Hitler, Putin has felt emboldened to reform the old Soviet Union with terror tactics.

Mayor Cavalier Johnson led the city’s tribute, emphasizing Milwaukee’s commitment to standing with Ukraine during its battle against tyranny.

“Today, we stand united with Ukraine, affirming our belief in freedom, justice, and the unbreakable human spirit,” said Mayor Johnson. “Milwaukee’s voice is one of many around the world calling for peace and justice. We will continue to support Ukraine, and our community will continue to extend our hands in friendship.”

Mayor Johnson has advocated on behalf of the local Ukrainian community since the start of the full-scale invasion, and he developed a close friendship with Oleksandr Markushin, Mayor of Irpin – Milwaukee’s sister city in Ukraine.

He also proclaimed February 24, 2024, to be a day acknowledging the efforts of Milwaukee’s Ukrainian Community.

“WHEREAS, The City of Milwaukee commends the Ukrainian Community of Milwaukee for their work in recognizing and bringing awareness to the atrocious war that is occurring in Ukraine and for the support they have given to those suffering in this conflict …”

Halyna Salapata, president of Wisconsin Ukrainians, Inc. said that she was overwhelmed with gratitude for everyone who had been a part of their mission. Those efforts throughout 2023 helped the organization achieve remarkable milestones, and made a significant impact in helping Ukraine.

“In addition to our volunteer efforts, I am thrilled to share some of the highlights of our accomplishments in 2023. We have provided vital medical supplies, including hemostatic bandages, tourniquets, and BurnTec dressings. These supplies have played a crucial role in saving lives and providing much-needed support to those in need,” said Salapata.

Wisconsin Ukrainians, Inc. has also made significant contributions to various initiatives, including funding for orphanages, providing essential items such as thermal underwear and hand warmers, and supporting the education and well-being of children in Ukraine.

Salapata also echoed a shared worry and concern over the stalled military aid package that Ukraine desperately needed, but remained hopeful that President Biden would find a way to overcome the Republican blockade of those vital funds.

Senator Tammy Baldwin was unable to attend the event, but sent a message saying that she was in Washington DC working to deliver the support Ukraine needed to defend its homeland.

“My heart is with those grieving and whose lives have been forever changed by this war. Two years ago, Russia launched a brutal, illegal invasion into a peaceful Ukraine, initiating the largest land war we’ve seen in Europe since WWII,” Senator Baldwin said in the statement. “This brutal war has led to the needless death of tens of thousands of Ukrainians, uprooted millions from their homes, and forced innocent children to grow up in a war-torn country.”

At the beginning of the war, many analysts assumed that Ukraine would succumb to Russian forces within a matter of days. Their assessment proved to be wrong, as they underestimated the Ukrainian people’s bravery, resilience, and unwavering resolve to fight back and defend their democracy, land, and freedom.

“Now, as we enter another critical chapter of this conflict, I am proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Ukrainian people in this fight for their future, and honor the service and sacrifice of all those who have given their lives over the last two years,” Senator Baldwin added.

Darryl Morin, President and CEO of Advanced Wireless, Inc. (AWI), recently announced that his donation of more than 800 site-survivable Wi-Fi access points to Milwaukee’s Sister City of Irpin, Ukraine would finally begin shipping. The donation consists of 840 state-of-the-art 802.11ac Wave 2 access points.

“This conflict transcends borders, challenging the very principles of international law and human rights,” said Morin. “As a community, as part of the global fabric, we must stand together against such tragic violations, offering our support to those fighting for their freedom.”

In collaboration with global business communities, non-governmental organizations, and representatives from Ukrainian businesses and authorities, the Milwaukee-based humanitarian nonprofit Friends of Be an Angel has delivered nearly 63 million dollars in aid. Anya Verkhovskaya, Founder of Friends of Be An Angel, highlighted the humanitarian efforts underway to assist those affected by the conflict.

“Through the darkness of war, the spirit of humanity shines brightest. Our organization, along with many others, is working tirelessly to provide aid and support to the people of Ukraine. Every contribution, no matter how small, makes a difference.”

Verkhovskaya said her organization was committed to providing immediate aid, and also supporting local businesses with logistical and networking assistance. That strategic approach was designed to contribute to the long-term recovery and rebuilding efforts in Irpin and across Ukraine.

“To witness such unfathomable suffering, to feel the weight of it all, is a burden too heavy to bear alone. Yet, here I am, transformed into a fervent advocate for democracy, truth, and the rights of every child, every elder, every marginalized soul,” Verkhovskaya said in a statement after the event. “Amidst the chaos and despair, there is a glimmer of hope. It is the unwavering spirit of the Ukrainian people, and the solidarity of global activists, that fuels my resolve. Their strength in the face of adversity, and their refusal to yield to the forces of tyranny, inspires me beyond measure.”

Hours earlier, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy welcomed Western leaders to Kyiv to mark the anniversary, as Ukrainian forces run low on ammunition and foreign aid hangs in the balance.

Ukraine’s war against Russia enters its third year, and Kyiv’s troops face mounting challenges on the frontline amid dwindling supplies and personnel challenges. Its troops recently withdrew from the strategic eastern city of Avdiivka, handing Moscow one of its biggest victories.

Russia still controls roughly a quarter of the country after Ukraine failed to make any major breakthroughs with its summertime counteroffensive. Meanwhile, millions of Ukrainians continue to live in precarious circumstances, and many others face constant struggles under Russian occupation. Most are waiting for a Ukrainian liberation that remains elusive.

About 14.6 million people, or 40% of Ukraine’s population, need assistance, with many left homeless or without adequate access to food, water, and electricity. The EU recently approved a $54 billion aid package for Ukraine meant to support Ukraine’s economy, despite resistance from Hungary.

In the U.S. Congress, MAGA Republicans have stalled $60 billion in military aid for Kyiv, desperately needed in the short term. The obstruction of aid to Ukraine by Republicans has been a glaring example of the political party’s slide into authoritarianism under Trump, marked by a frustrating blend of ideological grandstanding and dysfunction.

Holding crucial support hostage for an embattled ally is a betrayal of America’s core values, and has shown dangerous shortsightedness regarding global stability and democratic principles. The refusal of the GOP to unify behind Ukraine’s cause jeopardizes not just the immediate needs of Ukraine but also the broader interests of international alliances. The reprehensible stonewalling, driven by a mix of corrupted priorities, undermines America’s commitment to supporting global democracy and stability.

Independent Russian news outlets have reported that about 75,000 Russian men died in 2022 and 2023 fighting in the war. Other estimates based on statistical data calculate the loss at 83,000. The rate of Russia’s losses in Ukraine is not slowing, and it is estimated that Moscow is losing about 120 men a day.

“Confusing the much-bandied about word ‘peace’ with ‘surrender,’ as some people do, is a hypocritical approach that we will never share.” – President Volodymyr Zelenskyy