Hopkins affiliates and members of the Baltimore community held a vigil on the Beach in support of Ukraine on March 5. Holding sunflowers and flyers, the event organizers called on attendees to donate resources for the people of Ukraine.
A week before the vigil, the Russian Federation initiated a military invasion of Ukraine. Since then, over 1.5 million Ukrainians have escaped the country, and the total number of casualties remains unknown.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine proclaimed itself an independent country, which Russian President Vladimir Putin refuses to acknowledge. Beginning in 2014 when Russian forces seized Crimea, war in the Donbas region has ravaged communities in eastern Ukraine.
Representatives from the Student Government Association, the Bloomberg School of Public Health Student Assembly, the Graduate Representative Organization (GRO), the School of Medicine Graduate Student Association and the School of Nursing PhD Students Organization planned the event. They invited Reverend Vasyl Sivinskyi, the parish priest of the St. Michael Archangel Ukrainian Catholic Church, to say a prayer and collect donations for Ukraine.
Paola Ramos, co-vice president for diversity, equity and community affairs of the Public Health Student Assembly, spearheaded the event. In an interview with The News-Letter, Ramos explained that School of Public Health students wanted to do something for Ukraine, but many did not know where to start.
“We came up with the idea of making an informational flier. We were very adamant in not just wanting to stand in solidarity because, at the end of the day, that doesn’t do a lot,” she said. “Aside from that being a nice gesture, we wanted to do more, so we compiled a list of organizations for people to donate to.”
Ramos emphasized that the event organizers decided to distribute flyers to combat the misinformation surrounding the crisis.
Ona Ambrozaite, co-chair of GRO, highlighted the importance of the vigil in an interview with The News-Letter.
“We see that the ongoing conflict has caused major displacement. This is a truly significant humanitarian crisis for the people of Ukraine,” she said. “The vigil was so emotional for a lot of people, especially those that were speaking in Ukrainian and singing the anthem.”
Although many students across the Hopkins campuses were involved in planning the event, none of them were Ukrainian. Because of this, Ramos reached out to organizations around Baltimore to invite a Ukrainian speaker to the event.
“Even though I know all of the students involved are very passionate and willing to help out. I thought it was only fair to let a Ukrainian speaker lead the event because they're the ones who've been directly affected,” Ramos said.
Peter Charchalis, a Ukrainian American who was born and raised in Baltimore, spoke at the vigil. His mother Tatiana was a Hopkins alum who emigrated from Ukraine during World War II.
“Russians have been trying to eradicate Ukraine for over 400 years, and they haven’t succeeded. The resistance we’re seeing today is a testament to the strength, resilience and pride of the Ukrainian people,” he said during the vigil. “They aren’t just defending Ukraine. They’re defending what our democracy is built on.”
Charchalis called on the attendees present to write to their government leaders and exert political pressure on Russia. He cited the example of Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, who has called on the state pension system to divest its assets from Russia.
“Thank you, Governor Hogan. I hope Johns Hopkins will do the same,” Charchalis said. “Call the White House today. Tell them to increase sanctions and to provide a no-fly zone over Ukraine. The Ukrainian army will do the rest.”
Charchalis led the crowd in a rendition of the Ukrainian national anthem as students passed sunflowers and flyers to the crowd.
Ambrozaite described a memorable moment from the vigil when the crowd drew closer to hear the priest after his microphone stopped working.
“It just shows the sense of community and importance that people placed on this issue. That was exactly what we wanted,” she said. “We wanted to send that message that we are with the people of Ukraine.”
Sofia Melamed, a freshman from Russia, pointed out that many Russians are not politically active. Though she wanted to participate in protests when she was in Russia, the possibility of getting caught and put in jail led to her inaction.
Melamed voiced her gratitude for the organizers of the vigil for providing opportunities for students to get involved in the crisis in an interview with The News-Letter.
“You feel guilty for not being in [Russia] to protest. I’ve been wanting to engage in any way against my government for murdering people,” she said. “The vigil was a fantastic opportunity to put politics aside for a second and honor the people who died.”
Junior Sophie Liu stated that students should donate to humanitarian organizations, educate themselves and attend vigils like this one to show their support.
“The humanitarian crisis really resonated with me because it’s 2022. The fact that there’s a war blows my mind,” she said. “My heart breaks for Ukraine and its residents who are now refugees.”
Liu noted the beauty of the sunflowers that were distributed to attendees. The sunflower, which is the national flower of Ukraine, has become a symbol of peace and solidarity for Ukrainians.
While Liu appreciated President Ronald J. Daniels’ statement on the war, Ramos called on the administration to provide students with more resources to support those in Ukraine rather than just sending out emails.
“A lot of students at the School of Public Health feel like Hopkins can do more, but we did not want to wait for the administration to do something,” she said. “They may be doing something and we just don’t know. But to that, I say share this with your students, so they can help out as well. Beyond the Ukraine crisis, this should be extended to other crises happening now, too.”
According to Ramos, there are faculty and staff within departments who are working with humanitarian organizations to send resources and funding.
After seeing the effective collaboration among student organizations, Ambrozaite stressed their plans to host similar events as the war persists.
“It’s so inspiring to see colleagues who are as dedicated and passionate as they are,” she said. “I’m thankful for the people who came to show support, and I'm thankful for the people who will come and join us in future events that they occur.”
Min-Seo Kim contributed reporting to this article.