By Liz Vanderau
Hundreds of thousands of protesters have gathered in cities across the world to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Chicago is just one of those cities. Over the past three weeks, dozens of demonstrations calling for an end to the war have clogged sidewalks and stopped traffic on major streets throughout the city.
Young Ukrainian Americans in Chicago have been particularly visible and vocal during these demonstrations. Those interviewed hope their persistent presence will incentivize U.S. and other world leaders to increase aid to Ukraine.
[“USA support Ukraine” chant ]
NARRATION: FOR OVER TWO WEEKS, THOUSANDS HAVE GATHERED IN CHICAGO’S STREETS DAY AND NIGHT TO DENOUNCE RUSSIA’S WAR ON UKRAINE.
DAMIAN SAHAYDAK: “What Putin’s doing is really not … like a human being.”
OKSANA TYHA: “It feels very surrealistic and very … like a bad, bad nightmare. … This is so far the most I can do.”
KARINA KUYEK: “Millions of us are just praying that this ends soon and that what we are doing, it really makes an impact.”
NARRATION: FOR MANY, THESE DEMONSTRATIONS ARE A WAY TO FIGHT …
KUYEK: “I am fighting for the freedom of my country, where my home is, my family is, everything I know and love.”
NARRATION: … AND SEEK COMFORT.
TYHA : “Emotionally, it’s just much easier to be with people from Ukraine.”
NARRATION: YOUNG UKRAINIAN AMERICANS, IN PARTICULAR, HAVE SHOWN UP IN FULL FORCE IN HOPES THAT BY DEMONSTRATING, DOCUMENTING AND POSTING, THEIR CALLS FOR INCREASED SUPPORT FROM THE UNITED STATES AND THE REST OF NATO WILL NOT BE IGNORED.
ZORYANA BANDRIWSKY: “We’re not here today to stop Putin. We are here for the other national leaders because those are the people that will actually listen, and that actually care. … We’re just here to save our country.”
NARRATION: ON FEB. 27, THREE DAYS AFTER RUSSIA’S INVASION OF UKRAINE BEGAN, HUNDREDS OF DEMONSTRATORS GATHERED OUTSIDE OF ST. VOLODYMYR AND OLHA CATHOLIC CHURCH IN UKRAINIAN VILLAGE. MANY DEMONSTRATORS WERE YOUNG PEOPLE, WORRIED ABOUT THEIR FAMILY AND FRIENDS IN UKRAINE.
KUYEK: “Majority of my family is still in Ukraine. It’s incredibly painful to just, every morning, wake up and pray to God that when you call them they actually answer and they’re alive.”
NARRATION: ON THE CHURCH STEPS, KUYEK AND OTHER MEMBERS OF CHICAGO’S UKRAINIAN COMMUNITY WERE JOINED BY GOV. PRITZKER, MAYOR LIGHTFOOT AND ILLINOIS LEGISLATORS, WHO SHARED WORDS OF SOLIDARITY.
GOV. J.B. PRITZKER” “Slava Ukraini and screw Vladimir Putin.”
NARRATION: BUT THE EMOTIONAL APPEALS MADE BY YOUNG WOMEN WERE THE MOST POWERFUL.
TANYA FEDAK: “While I and every Ukrainian appreciate the support that the world has shown our country in such a dark time, projecting a flag does not change the fact that Ukrainian lives are being taken as we speak due to Putin’s power-hungry mission.”
NARRATION: LATER, A 17-YEAR-OLD SHARED A MOVING PERSONAL STORY ABOUT A YOUNG GIRL SHE KNOWS IN UKRAINE.
BANDRIWSKY: “I’ve been keeping in contact with her every day since the invasion, and she has been updating me. I just pray that there is never a day when she stops responding to my texts.”
NARRATION: BANDRIWSKY VIEWS HER YOUTH AS AN ASSET.
BANDRIWSKY: “You don’t have to be older to make a difference and to inform people.”
NARRATION: BOTH YOUNG WOMEN BELIEVE IT’S THEIR RESPONSIBILITY TO SUPPORT THEIR PEERS ABROAD BY USING THEIR VOICES TO KEEP AMERICANS ENGAGED IN THE FIGHT.
BANDRIWSKY: “Post about it, go to rallies, go to protests, do everything you can.”
FEDAK: “This time, it can’t go ignored. Because we do have access to social media. Everyone’s watching a war behind their phone screens.”
NARRATION: FEDAK HOPES THE VISIBILITY OF PROTESTS — BOTH PHYSICALLY AND ONLINE — WILL RESULT IN INCREASED AID FOR UKRAINE.
FEDAK: “If we felt that what our governments were doing was enough, we would have no reason to come forward and protest and block the streets and speak our minds. But further action needs to be taken.“
NARRATION: TEN DAYS INTO THE CONFLICT, ON MARCH 6, SIMILAR SENTIMENTS WERE ECHOED DOWNTOWN, BUT WITH INCREASED URGENCY.
NARRATION: THRONGS OF PROTESTERS FLOODED DALEY PLAZA BEFORE SHUTTING DOWN MAJOR STREETS TO MARCH TO MILLENNIUM PARK. RAISED SIGNS AND EMOTIONAL VOICES SIGNALED THAT MANY PEOPLE DO NOT BELIEVE NATO HAS GONE FAR ENOUGH TO FIGHT RUSSIAN FORCES AS THEY CONTINUE TO INVADE.
TYHA: “Our kids are dying. Our men are dying. Women have to give birth in basements. Like, especially right now, being pregnant, I feel for them a lot.”
NARRATION: THE FATE OF CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE IN UKRAINE WAS A CHIEF CONCERN FOR THE PROTESTORS. A VOCAL MAJORITY OF THE DEMONSTRATORS WERE YOUNG. CALLS TO “CLOSE THE SKIES” AND REPEATED APPEALS FOR NATO TO INTERVENE IN THE WAR NEARLY DROWNED OUT THE SOUND OF SPEAKERS.
SAHAYDAK: “We’re hoping that NATO will help cover the sky basically. And just to end this whole thing, because innocent people are dying.”
THYA: “I really hope NATO will either close the sky or support Ukrainians more. I understand they’re terrified and they’re afraid for their own countries, but Ukraine is just the beginning.”
NARRATION: BUT CLOSING THE SKY WOULD REQUIRE NATO TO SHOOT DOWN RUSSIAN PLANES, SOMETHING WORLD LEADERS DON’T WANT TO DO, DESPITE CALLS FROM PROTESTERS.
MYKOLA STARANCHAK: “We need more support, more people to come and like support us? Like it doesn’t matter what nationality or like we support like, we’re all like brothers and sisters. We’ve got to support each other.”
SAHAYDAK: “So much people show up that it can really like they can’t not not help. … We really need help.”
NARRATION: LIKE BANDRIWSKY AND FEDAK, TYHA THINKS THE MOST EFFECTIVE THING SUPPORTERS OF UKRAINE CAN DO IS CONTINUE TO BROADCAST THEIR DEMANDS AND DESIRES.
TYHA: “We need to speak up and use the mass media and use the Instagram, Facebook, television and just show that this is not OK. And this is the problem not for just Ukraine but the whole world to be terrorized by one crazy president.”
NARRATION: IN CHICAGO, LIZ VANDERAU, MEDILL REPORTS.
Liz Vanderau is a Video and Broadcast graduate student at Medill. You can follow her on Twitter @egvanderau.