Rallies in support of Ukraine continue in Portland
Scrolling through videos of anti-war protesters in Russia getting beaten and arrested by police, Alexandra Obmanets said, "Today was a very hard day for them."
More than 4,500 protesters across Russia had been arrested as of Sunday, March 6, during demonstrations against the country's campaign in Ukraine, according to the independent OVD-Info monitoring group.
Obmanets came to the "Say No to Putin's War Against Ukraine" rally Sunday at the Salmon Street Springs Fountain in downtown Portland to stand in solidarity with Ukrainians, as well as Russians who are protesting the war, she said.
About 150 people attended the rally, many donning the yellow and blue of the Ukrainian flag and holding signs saying, "Stand With Ukraine," "No War," and "Open Humanitarian Corridors."
The day before, a similar number of people rallied in support of Ukraine along the pedestrian path of the Interstate 205 bridge between Oregon and Washington. The Portland area has seen several rallies since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, and Slavic churches and organizations have been holding events and gathering humanitarian aid.
People with ties to Ukraine have been struggling to stay in touch with family and friends there as they watch Russia's assault continue.
Obmanets, who said she has family in both Ukraine and Russia, said her family in Russia strongly opposed their government's invasion. She fears the Russian government increasing already harsh penalties against anti-war demonstrators as well as anyone discussing opposition to the war online, she said.
"The oppression is as tough as it can be," Obmanets said.
She has been following posts from people at protests in Russia through the instant messaging service Telegram, which she said was considered safer from monitoring of the Russian government.
Meanwhile, she said she has been in contact with her aunt, uncle and their children who live outside Kyiv.
"They are trying to persuade me that they are fine. They are trying to be very brave on the phone," Obmanets said. "We talked to them today, and while we were talking, there was an (air raid alert) siren going on."
It's a difficult time for people who identify as Ukrainian and Russian, she said, adding "You feel absolutely dreadful. The majority of Russian people have someone in Ukraine. These countries for many years have been so interconnected."
The rally Sunday also was attended by people from a broad range of former Soviet countries and European countries who wanted to show support for Ukraine.
Most people who spoke to the crowd through a PA system were speaking Russian because the language was ubiquitous during Soviet rule — especially in the eastern half of the Ukraine — said rally-goer Vineta Gleba, who immigrated to the United States from Ukraine with her family in 2000, a few years after she was born.
Speaking to the crowd in English, Gleba asked people to show where they are from, calling on them to cheer when she named a country. People cheered for Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Romania, Kazakhstan, Hungary, Canada, Italy, Israel, Mexico and the United States.
"Every time we see any nationality representing and supporting Ukraine, it makes us want to cry," Gleba said. "This is not just Ukraine's war, this is the world's war because it is affecting every single country and citizen."
Early in the rally, organizers played a recording of a public address Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy gave Sunday, in which he again called on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to enact a "no-fly zone" over Ukraine.
NATO countries so far have declined that request, saying it would lead to the shooting down of Russian planes and a dramatic escalation of the war.
Many signs at the rally read, "No Fly Zone," and one read: "Dear NATO, your fear emboldens the oppressor. Clear the skies."
The signs starkly contrasted those at another rally in downtown Portland hours earlier at Pioneer Courthouse Square. That rally was organized by Veterans for Peace Chapter 72, which is based in Portland.
Signs there read, "We must ban NATO," "NATO is to blame," "Russian troops out of Ukraine. End expansion of NATO."
It was part of a global day of action organized by a coalition of groups, including the women-led anti-militarism organization CODEPINK.
A website created by the coalition calls for Russia to withdraw its troops, saying the war is a disaster for the people of Ukraine. It also accuses NATO of helping to cause the war and states opposition to sanctions against Russia that harm ordinary Russians.
About 100 people participated in the rally, called "All Out For an End to War and Imperialism," including supporters of Ukraine, veterans, opponents of nuclear proliferation and climate change activists.
Speaking through a megaphone, Dan Shea, a Vietnam veteran and organizer with Veterans For Peace, said he has seen first-hand the horrors of war and the suffering of civilians. He also spoke about the risks that nuclear power plants, under the threat of Russian attacks in Ukraine, pose to civilians.
"What we are here for is not just to blame one side or the other, because they're all involved," Shea said. "People want peace in this world. We need diplomacy, not war."
Other speakers at the rally called for the United States not to support any move that could escalate the war, including a no-fly zone over Ukraine. They also advocated for the dismantling of NATO and the demilitarization of Europe.
Cody Urban of the Resist US-led War Movement called for Russian troops to leave Ukraine. He also told the crowd that the United States' backing of Ukrainian forces in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine laid the foundation for Russia's invasion last month.
The region has been occupied by Russian-backed separatists since 2014 when the separatists took over Ukrainian government buildings and declared two independent states. More than 14,000 people have died in the Donbas region since the fighting began.
"The past eight years have been a horrific civil war that could have ended in 2015 if the U.S. and NATO didn't push for war to continue," Urban said, referring to a shaky 2015 ceasefire agreement, called the Minsk II agreement.
The rally at Pioneer Square and the narrative of NATO helping to cause the war in eastern Ukraine promotes a "peace on Putin's terms" outcome for Russia's current campaign in Ukraine, says Tatiana Terdal, a board member of the Ukrainian-American Cultural Association of Oregon and Southwest Washington.
Terdal, who attended the rally at the Salmon Street Springs Fountain, said anti-NATO groups are playing into Putin's demands for the war.
"This is a very imperial approach: (that) it's not up to Ukrainians which organization they want to join, which alliance they want to join," Terdal said. "For Americans to be promoting the Russian worldview is very painful to Ukrainians."
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