Juneau rallies for Ukrainians: ‘We are here, but our soul, our mind and hearts are there’

A few dozen people pose for a group photograph holding signs in support of Ukraine
A group of about 40 people gathered at Marine Park in solidarity with Ukraine on Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022 in Juneau. Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 22, touching off protests within its border and around the world as well as widespread economic sanctions and a buildup of troops in nearby NATO countries. (Yvonne Krumrey/KTOO)

With just a day’s notice, dozens of Juneau residents gathered on Saturday afternoon in their winter gear at Marine Park Pavilion, carrying blue and yellow and wearing “Alaskans Stand with Ukraine” and “#JuneauStandsWithUkraine” buttons.

Nick Moe organized the rally along with Lisa Denny. 

“I think we’ve all been watching the news, the horrible things that have been going on,” he said. “A friend sent me the TikTok video from a young woman in Ukraine, in a bomb shelter, pleading for the international community to do something and organize protests. And we thought, we got to do it, we’ve got to do it here in Juneau.”

Russia attacked Ukraine on Feb. 24, sending thousands of people fleeing into neighboring countries and others arming themselves to fight. Videos of tanks and bombs and the experiences of people in Ukraine taking shelter from the fighting have spread far and wide. 

RELATED: In Ukraine, the road to war was paved by the failure of diplomacy

Moe spoke to the experience of doomscrolling this invasion — witnessing the conflict from afar via social media — and the need for collective action.  

“I think it’s really important, we get off our phones, get off the TV screen, and build community,” he said.

Seventeen-year-old Viktor Tkachenko took the mic to share his pride in his hometown of Rivne in western Ukraine, where he moved from just a year ago. 

“You can’t even imagine how much it means for my Ukrainian friends — every person going out there … and trying to do outreach and support — and how much it means that you are here,” Tkachenko said. “My best friend’s brother, he’s 13, and his friends and him are running around looking for marks from Russian soldiers on the ground and under buildings. And those marks are for rockets. And in my home city in the last 24 hours. It was seven sirens telling about planes with bombs coming to our city. It’s just scary.”

He said he has been trying to coordinate his friends across Ukraine to get to safety, pairing those who have cars with those without transportation. 

“It’s at least something that I can do because it’s impossible to sleep, to eat, to be calm now,” he said. 

Tkachenko was there with his mother Svitlana Bell and grandmother Valentyna Matviichuk. Svitlana came to Juneau 7 years ago and was able to relocate her children to Juneau last year. Her 69-year-old mother arrived a month ago.

Bell said she’s glad to be in Juneau, but the family is  still very connected with their home in Ukraine.

“We are here, but our soul, our mind and hearts are there. Especially these days. We have our families there, and a lot of friends there. And I want to say that Ukrainians, they are extremely kind, extremely patient, and extremely hard workers. But never make them mad. They fight hard. And I’m proud that a lot of the world stands with Ukraine,” Bell said. 

Juneau State Sen. Jesse Kiehl called the invasion “Vladimir Putin’s aggressive war, a war of empire, a war that is a land grab, a war based on lies.”

Anchorage Sen. Tom Begich weighed-in, too.

“Look into each other’s eyes and remember we are neighbors who love each other and care about each other,” he said. 

For Moe and Denny, it was important that Tkachenko and his family, as well as people experiencing the violence directly in Ukraine, know that Juneau cares about what is happening. 

This is the first event that Denny has organized.

“Yeah, no, we don’t have an organization. We’re just two individuals that care a lot and wanted to show support,” she said. 

Denny said they wanted to act quickly, even if that meant giving short notice for the rally. 

“Nick and I were just very deeply moved by the conflict that has broken out. And we wanted to respond to the Ukrainians’ call that we protest in solidarity with them. This is our response,” Denny said.  “We’re saying, ‘Hey, we see you, we hear you, we love you. We hope the best for you.’ We hope for peace for everyone involved. And we’re taking a stance to support them, and spread awareness. To say there’s people here in Juneau give a f—.”

Moe said they are collecting ideas of further ways to support Ukraine from Juneau and want people to stay connected to continue to engage with supporting those impacted by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

Correction: Svitlana Bell’s first name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story.

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