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Community members gather in solidarity with Ukrainian nation and students

University students and community members gathered Thursday night to donate, listen and show support for the Ukrainian people

The McIntire Amphitheater — where the vigil was held — had full bleachers at the event's start.
The McIntire Amphitheater — where the vigil was held — had full bleachers at the event's start.

In solidarity with the Ukrainian people affected by Russia’s invasion, community members banded together at a vigil Thursday at 7 p.m. The vigil elevated student and faculty voices who shared their own stories, well-known Ukrainian poetry and songs as well as a solemn moment of silence to conclude the candlelit event.

The vigil was planned by members of Second Year Council, who worked collaboratively with the Slavic Department, First and Third Year Councils and Fourth Year Trustees to ensure that it could happen in a timely manner. 

Baillie McNitt, second-year College student and service chair of SYC, said that the team effort of everyone involved is what made the vigil possible.

“My role has really just been trying to pull together as many people as possible,” McNitt said ahead of the event. “The Slavic department has been — I can't say enough about them. They've been absolutely amazing in providing us with resources [and] with speakers and connecting us with the actual Ukrainian students who will be speaking tonight.”

As people settled into their seats at the event's start, flyers were passed out with a Venmo link that allowed donors to contribute money to The Voices of Children, a Ukrainian based organization that provides psychological counseling for children affected by war. 

In addition to the donation link, an independently run bake sale located at the top of the amphitheater’s stairs was set up at the conclusion of the emotional vigil. The bake sale accepted payment in the form of donations to the World Central Kitchen, which has been providing Ukrainian refugees in Europe with free meals this week.

The event was open to everyone in the community who wished to express their support for the Ukrainian people. The McIntire Amphitheater — where the vigil was held — had full bleachers at the event's start. Attendees sat quietly and attentively as the first speakers were introduced to the stage and remained respectful as all speakers took turns on the microphone.

Of the speakers, there were multiple Ukrainian students who shared their personal connections and fears to those in attendance, students and faculty who shared poetry written by Ukrainian poets and students who sang a Polish-Ukrainian folk song as well as the Ukrainian National Anthem.

Second-year Engineering student Beatrice Tremblay recognized and resonated with the poetry and music that was performed at the vigil. Despite this familiarity, Tremblay said she was truly touched by the emotional setting as well as the masses of people who came to show quiet but encouraging support for her country.

“I don't really know many other people who are feeling it the same way,” Tremblay said. “When you're personally involved, you have a different input or perspective on it. It was really lovely to see people who are from a similar background [as me] there, but also people who have really no personal involvement and just really wanted to show up — that meant a lot.” 

Efforts by organizations on Grounds have been fast moving and widespread, matching the urgency of the situation in Ukraine. Fourth-year College student Varvara Isaieva has been heavily involved with Ukrainian awareness and support efforts on Grounds this week. 

On Tuesday, Isaieva was involved with sending an official statement to University President Jim Ryan on the attacks happening in Ukraine, which she hopes will help generate more help for the Ukrainian people from not just the University, but also the federal government who has the power to act on these University-bolstered demands.

“We want [Ryan] to publish the official statement from the University of Virginia, basically asking the government of the United States how they can help out more, but to make it so it's not [just] U.Va.’s responsibility,” Isaieva said. “And we want to do the same thing with other universities in the United States.”

Isaieva said that in addition to expressing support for this statement, those with connections to organizations such as the Red Cross, the University Medical Center and other medical aid-based organizations could make a big difference in the extent to which herself and other Ukrainian students on Grounds are able to lend support to their country. She emphasizes that no matter who you are or what connections you have, a collective effort is necessary.

“The more people we attract, the more people [who are] engaged, the more we can do for Ukraine,” Isaieva said. “It should be important to others because you know, Ukraine is not only protecting itself right now, it’s technically protecting the whole of Europe.” 

McNitt also expressed a desire to spread engagement and awareness in times of fear and brutality. 

“I think that the strongest tool that we have as students is gathering together and rallying around one another in times of need,” McNitt said. “I truly do believe that our right to gather and to protest and to speak and to share our perspectives is the greatest tool that we have.”

The event concluded with a moment of silence, followed by a motion for everyone in attendance to take their candles to the front of the stage, lining them up in front of a projection of the Ukrainian flag in a symbol of hope and solemnity. Following this movement, students and attendees were asked to depart in silence to conclude the public vigil.

Tremblay highlighted that at the end of the day there are no excuses for turning a blind eye to these brutalities.

“This is a human thing,” Tremblay said. “When you do have that personal connection, it makes it that much more real, but really anyone who sits and thinks about the fact that these are real people who are dealing with this.”

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