By Jack Savage
It doesn’t get much bigger than an 1,800-square-foot flag blowing in the breeze over the city. Chicago’s grand gesture to the people of Ukraine flew in full view above the Kennedy Expressway on Grand Avenue in Fulton Market on March 6, showering the city under a fluorescent blue and gold glow.
It is the largest Ukrainian flag in the United States, according to real estate developer Sterling Bay at the solidarity rally.
Hundreds gathered to show their support for the Ukrainians and their country, as Ukrainian-American veterans who served in Vietnam hoisted the flag into the Chicago skyline. As Russian soldiers continue to invade their homeland and threaten their democracy, those with Ukrainian ties made it clear they aren’t going to go quietly into the night.
*Captions listed at the bottom. Click any image for slideshow view. (Photos by Jack Savage/ Medill)
“I have family in Ukraine,” said Nick Sidelnik, a Ukrainian-American and a Vietnam veteran. “I talked to my cousins the other day, and some of them decided to stay back and fight. Most of the men, 18 to 60 years old, are staying behind (to fight). Many of the Americans here with Ukrainian roots have gone back over to fight, to take up arms.”
Sidelnik gave a smirk.
“I was in artillery, 105 mm howitzer. I know my way around the tanks. I wish that I could get in there and get into one of the tanks and smoke the hell out of those Russians,” he said.
Sidelnik’s sentiments were echoed and shouted throughout the gathering, while flags waved in the hands of supporters and signs were raised high into the sky expressing support and love for Ukraine, and a strong, vulgar hate for Russian President Vladimir Putin. It was an emotional day for everyone involved, as even those without Ukrainian roots came out to show their support.
“It’s cool to have people who aren’t Ukrainian come here to support us,” said Deanna Charkewycz, a second-generation Ukrainian. “That’s something we’ve been really wanting to have happen for years. Throughout my life I’ve been seeing similar demonstrations, but there is something different this time, and that’s because of all the external support.”
The largest Ukrainian flag in the country now flies 200 feet into the sky, “representing freedom, our culture, our lives and all that we stand for,” Sidelnik said.
Photo 1: A young girl sits on her mother’s shoulders as she holds a ‘Stand With Ukraine’ sign, overlooking the older generations who have fought for her freedom at the March 6 solidarity gathering. (Jack Savage/Medill)
Photo 2: Hundreds gather in Ukrainian Village to watch as the largest Ukrainian flag in the United States is hoisted into the air. (Jack Savage/Medill)
Photo 3: “To me, this is a war of colors,” said John Oharenko, a Ukrainian-American who was born and raised in Ukrainian Village. “Blue for sky, and yellow for wheat — that is our symbol of fighting for freedom, democracy and choice.” (Jack Savage/Medill)
Photo 4: “It has come to a head,” Oharenko said. “That this murderous dictator (Vladimir Putin) has too much power, and he needs to be dealt with.” Other Ukrainian-Americans share Oharenko’s sentiment with their signs. (Jack Savage/Medill)
Photo 5: Ukrainians plead for a no-fly zone over Ukraine and for the West to help protect their skies. (Jack Savage/Medill)
Photo 6: The residents of Ukrainian Village look to the streets, holding up their signs, attracting honks of support from cars passing by. (Jack Savage/Medill)
Photo 7: Deanna Charkewycz (left) and Bailey Wendt (right) come together showing their disdain for Putin. Wendt, who is not Ukrainian, talks about why he chose to come out and support. “I’m here for Deanna,” Wendt said. “And for all people with Ukrainian ties, because it’s so important to show them, and the rest of the world, that we are behind them.” (Jack Savage/Medill)
Photo 8: The plea for a no-fly zone over Ukraine brought lots of emphasis at the rally, but so far one has not been imposed. (Jack Savage/Medill)
Photo 9: Nik Sidelnik, far left, stands alongside his fellow Ukrainian-Americans who fought in Vietnam, posing for a photo, before they help raise the 1800-square-foot flag. (Jack Savage/Medill)
Photo 10: Before the flag can be raised, it is blessed with holy water by a Ukrainian Village priest, who then leads a prayer for the people of Ukraine. (Jack Savage/Medill)
Photo 11: Chicagoans from many neighborhoods stand behind the Ukrainian-American veterans, shouting their cheers of support and love, as the flag is prepared to be hoisted. (Jack Savage/Medill)
Photo 12: The red, white and blue of an American flag waves amid the sea of yellow and blue of the Ukrainian flag. (Jack Savage/Medill)
Photo 13: A Ukrainian-American veteran looks on at the hundreds who showed up to watch the Ukrainian flag be raised high into the sky. (Jack Savage/Medill)
Photo 14: The largest Ukrainian flag in America is hoisted up the 200-foot flag pole in Ukrainian Village. (Jack Savage/Medill)
Photo 15: The 1,800-square-foot flag blows in the wind, as hundreds cheer in Ukrainian chants of freedom and pride, while condemning Putin. (Jack Savage/Medill)