As Russian forces continued to advance in Ukraine, hundreds of Ukrainians living in the Bay Area and their supporters gathered Thursday evening outside San Francisco City Hall to denounce the invasion and what some said they feared could become a full-scale war in Europe.
In a sea of blue and yellow, demonstrators waved Ukrainian flags, donned Ukrainian jerseys and held signs with a slew of slogans like “stop Russian bloodshed in Ukraine,” “Russia is an occupant” and “Pray for Ukraine.”
Vitalii Burak’s handmade sign used a portmanteau of Russian President Vladimir V. Putin and Adolf Hitler, reading “Putler, hands off Ukraine.” His message was one of many that compared Russia’s leader to the dictator of Nazi Germany.
“A friend of mine who is there, a missile shot right into his building,” he said, adding that his friend sent him photos of blood spilled in his stairway. “It’s just a city — not a military object. It’s just peaceful people who are sleeping in their beds and then the next thing they know, a missile is shot.”
Dmytro Nedzelskyi, 35, relocated from Ukraine to San Francisco three years ago for work. He said he felt helpless for his family back home and his brothers who are in the military and stationed at the country’s border.
If his worst fears became reality, he said, “We won’t have a country or who we are.”
“It won’t exist,” he said about his home country. “I don’t even want to think about it, but it’s quite possible.”
Nedzelskyi said he felt inclined to attend the protest to advocate for the U.S. and Europe to equip Ukrainians with weapons to defend themselves against the powerful Russian armed forces.
“We’re not asking for somebody to come and save us,” he said. “We can save ourselves but we need some weapons that we can use because they have more powerful weapons.”
At Thursday’s demonstration, Ukrainians were joined by other Bay Area residents from a variety of post-Soviet republics, including Georgia, Armenia and Kazakhstan. Former residents of Russia and Belarus, which faced sanctions Thursday for allowing Russian armed forces to use its territory during the invasion, also joined the rally in support of Ukraine.
For Nadzeya Norton, president of the Association of Belarusians in America, it was an extraordinary display of solidarity against Putin and a full-scale war, she said.
“Nobody wants to have a war — and people understand that this is about Putin first and foremost — not Russia, not Russian people, not Ukrainians,” she said. “It’s all about an imperialistic desire to renew the Soviet Union and we don’t want to go there. We’ve been there enough. It doesn’t exist anymore and we don’t want it to grow back, that’s why we’re here in unity for peace.”
State Senator Scott Wiener, who was in the crowd Thursday,said he felt it was important for Ukrainians to know they had support and that the U.S. was in their corner.
“What Putin is doing is absolutely terrifying,” Wiener said. “The idea that in 2022 a European country is trying to conquer another European country, it’s just terrifying. We’ve been down this road before and it resulted in just massive human suffering on an unimaginable scale and we can’t ever let that happen again. We have to draw a line.”