As Russian troops move on the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, hundreds stationed themselves in front of Philadelphia City Hall on Friday to protest the invasion and the United States’ inadequate support of Ukraine.
Ukrainians living in Philadelphia and city leaders called on the U.S. to impose stronger sanctions against Russia, increase military assistance, and block Russia from SWIFT, the messaging system that links financial institutions around the world. Honorary Consul of Ukraine to Philadelphia Iryna Mazur and Pennsylvania state Sen. Sharif Street (D-Philadelphia) also demanded that Pennsylvania halt the sale of Russian products.
Passersby in cars honked in support as they drove by City Hall where hundreds of people were draped in the Ukrainian flags and carrying signs, some of which read: “Stop Putin,” “USA help Ukraine,” and “NATO protect our sky.”
“All the assistance provided to us as of today is too late and too little,” Mazur told the crowd. “When America, as a guarantor of Ukrainian independence, was slow in assistance for the last eight years, it has empowered Putin. Now, we don’t have a single second to waste, because the provided assistance is too little and too small.”
Yuriy Tomalishchak, who was in attendance at the event and has relatives in Western Ukraine, said that the best support from the U.S. would be the protection of Ukraine’s skies.
“We obviously welcome all the sanctions,” he said. “We welcome the support from the world, but we just hope for more action, because as we speak right now, there are human beings dying.”
Others felt more anger and frustration with the U.S.’ lack of support for Ukraine troops.
“Sanctions? What are sanctions going to do at this point,” Marita Holyk, a Poconos resident who also has family in Western Ukraine, said. “Putin doesn’t give a shit about sanctions. He only cares about more power.”
Philadelphia City Councilmember At-Large David Oh also expressed disappointment at the U.S.’ refusal to help defend Ukraine, saying that Ukraine must now “stand alone" against the Russian invasion.
“It is embarrassing that a nation of children, women, seniors are being bombed while other free nations sit back and think about the economy and how much fuel will cost,” Oh told the crowd.
U.S. President Joe Biden announced on Thursday that the U.S. would defend its NATO allies if Russia expanded its aggression beyond Ukraine, but it would not send troops to fight Russia in fear of a world war. The U.S. sanctions on Russia include restricting exports of technology to Russia, freezing trillions of dollars in Russian assets, and cutting off Russia's largest banks and companies from the western financial market.
Many protesters had family in Ukraine, some of whom are sheltering in Kyiv as Russian troops attempt to take the city. Oksana Kornyat, a New Jersey resident, said her family in Kyiv is safe, but they remain vigilant as the city is under attack.
“You just hear explosions in the background,” she said. “They’re sleeping in their clothes ready to leave at any moment. I don’t even think anyone can sleep.”
Thousands of people in Russia protested Russian President Vladimir Putin’s assault on Ukraine on Thursday despite risk of detainment and imprisonment. Police have detained more than 1,300 people across the country, according to The New York Times.
2021 College graduate Daria Kulakova, whose home country is Russia, said that she shares Russian people’s anger toward Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine. Kulakova said she is ashamed of Putin and applauds the people who took to the streets in Russia to protest the invasion.
“In my opinion, they are heroes,” she said. “They are Russians who actually go on the streets. They are ready to sacrifice what they have because they know the consequences are horrible.”
As a Russian living in the U.S., Kulakova said she feels a great responsibility to share accurate information about what is happening to her friends and family in Russia, where the state exercises tight control over the media.
Russia has ramped up efforts to spread propaganda and disinformation as it invades Ukraine by taking videos out of context and creating false narratives to justify their invasion, according to NBC News.
Tomalishchak said that while he and his family are fearful, they are “extremely hopeful for a conflict resolution” between Ukraine and Russia as both countries attempt to find a location and time for potential peace talks.
“This is not a war against Ukraine at this point,” he said. “This is a war against democracy and European values.”