More than 100 people gathered outside Riverhead Town Hall this afternoon to rally against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, expressing their support for the Ukrainian-American population of the East End and calling at the end of the war in Ukraine.
The lawn was a sea of blue and yellow, as people carried and donned the colors of the Ukrainian flag. Attendees carried these flags along with placards carrying messages both in support of Ukraine’s sovereignty and condemning the actions of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The loud horns of passing motorists on East Main Street signaled their support for Ukraine. A Ukrainian flag flies from the flagpole outside City Hall in support of Ukraine and the local Ukrainian-American community.
Ukrainian cities have suffered air raids, missile attacks and shelling by Russian forces since Putin ordered an invasion of Ukraine on Thursday after weeks of denial that an invasion was planned, even as Russia rallied troops and military equipment along the Ukrainian borders. In response to the invasion, the European Union, the United States and many other countries imposed sanctions on Russia in an attempt to weaken the Russian economy and hamper its ability to wage war in Ukraine. .
The rally was organized by the parish of St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church in Riverhead, one of the few Ukrainian churches on Long Island and the only one in the East End. Church parishioners pray for peace and an end to the conflict that has plagued Ukraine since the annexation of Crimea and the occupation by Russian-backed rebels of territory in eastern Ukraine in 2014.
[See prior coverage: Riverhead’s Ukrainian-American community prays for peace as Ukraine tensions escalate]
“Today for Ukraine is 1776. It happened in the United States, right now it is happening in Ukraine. This is our 1776,” said Father Bohdan Hedz, the church pastor.
“I just hope 1939 doesn’t happen,” Hedz continued, comparing Putin’s invasion to Adolf Hitler’s in Poland. “It doesn’t seem like [way]. I pray and I hope, and it seems that Europe has finally achieved, the world has finally achieved, what Ukraine has always said. And it’s very important for all of us here to spread this awareness, to talk to your friends, to talk to your family, to talk to your neighbors about what’s happening in Ukraine. Your voice matters. Your support matters.
Local government officials said they support the church’s mission and the gathering. In attendance were Riverhead City Council members, Suffolk County lawmakers and Deputy County Executive Jon Kaiman.
“Ukraine is a free and independent democracy, which is a shining light in the face of communism and tyrants,” said Riverhead supervisor Yvette Aguiar. “Ukraine has every right to defend its borders, protect its citizens and protect its freedom.”
Kaiman said the county government is deeply concerned about the current situation in Ukraine and that he and Suffolk County Manager Steve Bellone stand with the people of Ukraine.
“The Ukrainian people are standing up for themselves, not just for Ukraine, but for the whole planet,” Kaiman said. “Everyone knows how it is when a tyrant starts with one country and then moves on to the next. If we lose Ukraine, we also lose neighboring countries, we lose democracy, we lose freedom. Thus, the Ukrainian people defend freedom throughout the world. We in Suffolk County know here that freedom is precious.
“Our prayers go out to the Ukrainian people. It’s hard to believe in 2022 that you see events unfolding around the world, it’s hard to believe you can see this happening today,” said lawmaker Al Krupski.
After the officials took the floor, Hedz led the rally singing the Ukrainian national anthem.
The rally drew a crowd of people from all walks of life, including people with roots in other Eastern European countries like Lithuania and Poland.
Anna Marynyak, a Ukrainian who is currently staying in Riverhead, said through an interpreter that just before the invasion she walked for three days from her town in Ukraine to Poland, where she flew for the United States. His whole family, including his children and grandchildren, is still in Ukraine. She is the only one in her family with a green card and came to the United States hoping to find a way to bring her family here.
Nick Andreadis of Mattituck, who immigrated to the United States when he was 12, said he stayed up most of the night to make sure his and his wife’s family in Ukraine stayed home. shelter from the bombardments. “I’m not going to bed until the sun comes up. So I feel like they are at least a bit safer because most of the shelling happens at night,” he said.
Andreadis, who hosted an exchange student from Ukraine, said he tried to get her out of the country but couldn’t because of military traffic and crowds. “What you see on TV doesn’t even describe how bad it is. I mean, everything is littered with debris and destroyed buildings and burned buildings. It’s amazing,” Andreadis said.
Andreadis said if Putin conquers Ukraine it could lead to another war in Europe. “If he succeeds [Ukraine], who is next? The Baltic? Poland?… And then it will be a major NATO country and… then it will be World War III. So it’s like the last fight before World War III,” he said.
Hedz said the support for Ukraine shown at rallies like the one in Riverhead today indicates Putin will lose the war. “You have big gatherings in New York. They have big gatherings in every major city in the United States and the world for that matter. And Mr. Putin will lose. I have a very confident feeling about it,” he said.
Hedz said the initial shock of war for Ukrainians in the East End was over and they were confident Ukraine would prevail. “There is an upheaval. There is an elevation in the spirit that we will overcome, no matter what difficulties still lie ahead. We are in the same boat and we will be victorious,” he said.
St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church is accepting donations from the community to send to people displaced by conflict and soldiers in Ukraine. They accept hygiene products, over-the-counter flu medications, and clothing of all sizes, especially those designed for the cold. Donations can be dropped off at the church, which is located at 820 Pond View Road in Riverhead.
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