Ukrainian and American flags stood side by side near the Financial District of New York City in a sign of support on Wednesday afternoon. Dozens of Ukrainian and New Yorkers gathered together around the flags, crying out against the war that has displaced thousands of Ukranians after just one month since Russia’s military invasion.
“Any kind of conflict that plays out on a global scale plays out onto the streets of New York City,” said New York City Mayor Eric Adams.
“As long as both flags remain up there, we will continue to show our support in these times.”
The city has the nation’s largest Ukrainian community outside of Ukraine, with an estimated 60,000 Ukrainian immigrants residing in the city, according to the U.S. Census.
Oleksii Holubov, the Ukrainian consulate general to the city, spoke about the resilience Ukranians have shown despite Russian opposition forces. Vladimir Putin, president of Russia, “does not recognize the right of Ukraine to exist,” said Holubov. “Talks with Russia are far from optimistic. The west has certainly helped us but we are still in desperate need of help.”
Demonstrators rallied together at Bowling Green Park—a historical landmark site that previously held the statue of King George III, but was removed by New Yorkers on July 9, 1776 after the U.S. recognized their independence from the British.
“Just as the gates of this park were broken down to place the American flag, today we place the Ukrainian flag as a symbol of freedom,” said Adams.
Tensions were high as Ukrainians and local New Yorkers called for the end of the war, asking for more than just speeches and acts of diplomatic solidarity, but for military intervention and stronger international sanctions.
“Actions like these are of dire importance,” said Aleksandr Krapivkin, a 28-year-old Ukrainian native who emigrated to the U.S. 18 years ago to pursue an acting career. “It’s not only about putting up the flag, but it’s the decision to keep the flag there until the end of this war,” he said.
More than 3.5 million Ukrainian refugees are estimated to have fled to neighboring countries since Feb. 24 and more than 2 million people are estimated to be internally displaced in Ukraine, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Demonstrators also waved the red and black Ukrainian Insurgent Army flags—which was the flag used by Ukrainian nationalists during WWII while fighting against the Soviet Union. “If our nation’s flag were dipped in blood, this is what it would look like,” said Krapivkin.
On Wednesday afternoon, New Yorkers could see a trail of yellow and blue flags, followed by Ukranians shouting “Slava Ukraini! Heroiam slava!,” or “Glory to Ukraine! Glory to heroes!” This was a key phrase Ukranians chanted during the Euromaidan protests that took place in November 2013, after former Ukrainian President Viktor-Yanukovych chose not to sign an agreement which would have allowed the country to work closer with the European Union.
Vitaliy Demyanik, a 36-year-old American-Ukrainian was born in the capital city of Kyiv but grew up most of his life in the U.S. and now lives in New York City and works for Google. He says the reason why he attended the demonstration was to show support for his homeland.
“It’s just tragic to see my own people have to go through this,” said Demyanik. “I’m hearing a lot of death and killing back in Ukraine… it’s not an easy thing to have to hear.” Back in Ukraine, his uncle Andriy Vasylenko along with his Dutch wife Arenda and their four children live in Brovary, a suburb of Kyiv.
He said his uncle works in the bakery industry while his wife runs a nonprofit organization called Perspective 21-3, aimed at improving the lives of people with Down Syndrome in Ukraine. After deciding to remain in Brovary, they launched the Bake4Ukraine campaign, which helps distribute bread to Ukrainian civilians who stayed behind.
The campaign has so far raised $134,480 and funds are being used to help Ukranians who have been impacted by the ongoing military actions. “I keep in touch with them almost every single day, and my uncle has been able to help thousands of Ukranians by providing bread,” said Demyanik.
Olena Sidlovych, a Ukrainian native from the city of Lviv, moved to New York City in 2010. She heard about the mayor’s flag demonstration event through a chat on the communication app Telegram. This is how she has been able to keep touch with family and friends back at home, she said.
“The United States fought for their freedom on their own land, us the Ukrainian people are fighting for those same freedoms in our own land,” Sidlovych said.
“When I call, I just hear the bomb sirens in the background,” she continued. “My people are dying and the world needs to see the war criminal that Putin is.”