URBANA, Ill. – When Daniel Brandys, the vice president of the Ukrainian Student Association at the University of Illinois, was growing up, he said many people in the U.S. had no idea what Ukraine was.
Now, with Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine, Brandys said he’s finally seeing people standing in solidarity with the country that means so much to him.
“I think that students being in line with one another and standing tall with each other will be a very strong message,” Brandys said.
The Ukrainian Student Association at the University of Illinois held a rally Sunday for students to stand in solidarity with Ukraine. Members of both the University of Illinois and Champaign-Urbana communities attended the event, held at the Alma Mater statue on the Urbana campus.
At least 100 people attended the rally. Many held blue and yellow Ukrainian flags and sang the Ukrainian national anthem in support.
Larysa Brandys, Daniel’s sister and the president of the Ukrainian Student Association, said it’s important for the campus community to support Ukrainian students because, like her, many of them have family in Ukraine.
“We’re just hoping that students take away how this is personally affecting a lot of us,” Larysa Brandys said. “Putin needs to be stopped. [At] these rallies, we don’t intend to stop him, but we intend to show support for our country and for Ukrainian people.”
University of Illinois Ph.D. students Liza Senatorova and Maria Kustova held signs at the rally declaring both their Russian heritage and their message: “We are Russians, We are against war.”
Senatorova said Russians have an obligation to defend their neighbor in the region.
“All the Russians, they have to go out and speak loud because Ukraine is like our brother,” Senatorova said. “But we’re ashamed of our government because it is crazy.”
Kustova said that she feels betrayed by the government because this is not a war that she or any of her friends in Russia agree with.
“I’m not embarrassed to be Russian, and I’m proud of my culture,” she said. “But yeah, it’s just, it’s betrayal.
“We never supported this government. We always, when we have the chance, we speak up.”
University of Illinois professor Roman Ivashkiv, who addressed the crowd, said he feels powerless living in the United States while family members like his mother are living in Ukraine.
Ivashiv said American citizens can make a difference by donating to the Ukrainian army and asking their public officials to support Ukraine.
“I understand that it’s difficult for us to be active and do a lot from here because we’re so far, far away,” Ivashkiv said. “But there are things that they can do.”
Larysa Brandys said she’s been in contact with some family members who have fled Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, for areas closer to Poland.
She said that, as Ukrainian students try to make sense of the war raging in a country that means so much to them, she hopes University of Illinois students show their support in any way they can.
“We’re hoping that students gain more of an awareness about what’s going on and keep it in mind as this tragic war unfolds,” she said.
Illinois Student Newsroom journalist Madison Holcomb contributed reporting to this story.