Today’s demonstration was organized by SIPA students just hours after Russia mounted a large military offensive across Ukraine last night. 

Snow began to fall as dozens of community members gathered in front of Low Library at 1 pm this afternoon to hear speeches from Ukrainian students and to show support for Ukraine amid Russia’s assault on the Eastern European country. Thet, a first-year student at SIPA, told Bwog that the rally was organized in just a few hours via a WhatsApp group chat for SIPA students. She said that the intent of the rally was to provide space for Ukrainian students to give a more human context to the harrowing events of the past day. Four out of five speakers were SIPA students, and all five had ties to Ukraine. Event organizers promoted the rally via @ukraine_cu on Instagram and Twitter, coinciding with other demonstrations across New York City.

The first speaker said she found out about the start of the invasion before her family members in Ukraine did and had to call them to inform them herself. She told attendees that her family is currently in Russian-occupied Crimea and later added that she doesn’t think she will see them in person again. She then went on to describe the harrowing scenes faced by her friends and family.

Another speaker said he was present at the Kyiv Maidan protests in 2014, which toppled the government of Russian-backed President Viktor Yanukovych and sparked Russia’s first incursions into eastern and southern Ukraine. He is a native Russian speaker and denounced Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claim that Russian speakers in Ukraine are oppressed. He also drew attention to the fact that Ukraine’s current president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, is Jewish, arguing that this casts doubt on Putin’s characterization of the invasion as a “de-Nazification” of Ukraine. The speaker proceeded to call for rally-goers to “fight Russian propaganda.”

The same speaker encouraged those present to stand in solidarity with Russians who oppose Putin. He said that the Ukrainian flag is a “symbol of the 21st century,” representing all people threatened by authoritarianism. 

Another speaker said she believes Russia’s attacks will not stop at Ukraine and that Russia will target other countries unless it is met “with resistance.” She urged rally-goers to show up at other solidarity events and to donate to the Ukrainian army. Later, she echoed a previous speaker’s call to support Russians who oppose the invasion of Ukraine. 

Finally, a fourth speaker described the risk the Russian seizure of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant poses to her hometown of Chernihiv. “Radioactive dust” would cover the city if the reactor is damaged, she said. She also expressed a wish that Ukraine would not be solely associated with war and entreated rally-goers to patronize Ukrainian-owned businesses and explore Ukrainian culture. 

Before the demonstration drew to a close, an attendee shouted “Slava Ukraini,” a common Ukrainian salute. The rally’s speakers then initiated a call and response of “Slava Ukraini!” followed by an audience refrain of “Heroiam slava!” — “Glory to Ukraine! Glory to heroes!” Tears were shed as the demonstrators slowly dispersed and the speakers mingled amongst the lingering crowd. 

Update made on Friday, February 25 at 9:45 am: This post has been updated to include a statement from President Bollinger on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Statement from President Bollinger made on Thursday, February 24:

President Bollinger’s Statement on the Invasion of Ukraine

February 24, 2022

Having been born in the shadow of the Second World War, having been educated, including at Columbia, in an era when totalitarianism and its evils were a principal subject of analysis and rejection, and having chosen a field in which intolerance is a defining characteristic always to be combatted, I cannot help but feel the intimations of the horrific human tragedy in the naked aggression we are witness to today against the country of Ukraine and its people. My thoughts are with them and with all who will suffer from these assaults.  

—Lee C. Bollinger

Update made on March 1, 2022 at 5:45 pm: This post has been updated with information regarding counseling services for students with loved ones affected by the war in Ukraine.

Columbia will be providing a Zoom support space for students with family and friends affected by the war in Ukraine on Wednesday, March 2, 2022, at 6 pm. Attending students should register in advance, after which they will receive further information regarding the meeting.

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