Ukrainians residing in San Antonio gathered Thursday at Main Plaza to condemn the Russian attack on Ukraine, expressing fears for family and friends in the Eastern European nation.
“We are gathered here today not too far from the Alamo, the symbol of freedom that a lot of people not only in Texas, but in the entire United States understand — that freedom has a price. Today, Ukraine is fighting for its freedom,” said Olena Khrystyuk, vice president of Ukrainian San Antonio, a local nonprofit that has worked to preserve Ukrainian culture in the area for seven years. “As the Alamo, they’re surrounded and they need help.”
Russia launched an invasion of Ukraine Thursday morning that included airstrikes on cities and military installations, resulting in at least 57 deaths, according to a Ukrainian government minister. As the government pleaded for help, civilians began fleeing west into Europe. The United States responded by issuing additional sanctions against Russia, including freezing Russian assets in U.S. banks.
According to Khrystyuk, nearly 3,000 people with close ties to Ukraine reside in San Antonio, with more in other large cities across Texas.
At the plaza, about two dozen Ukrainian Americans and supporters gathered with flags, framed photographs of family members and handheld signs bearing messages such as, “#Stand with Ukraine” and “NO WAR.” Another read, “Today’s freedom is under attack.” Others there wore the blue and yellow colors of the Ukrainian flag, and one woman wore a traditional Ukrainian flower crown, known as vinok.
Ukrainian natives said their mission Thursday was simply to raise awareness of the invasion at a local level and to ask Americans to pass severe sanctions on Russia.
Khrystyuk said she received a text message Wednesday from her cousin in Ukraine, whose son and wife are in the hospital sick.
“His 16-year-old daughter is screaming and crying, ‘Daddy I don’t want to die.’ My other friend has a small baby who has a fever. She went to the pharmacy — pharmacies are closed. It is a humanitarian crisis for no reason,” Khrystyuk said with tears in her eyes.
Olena Garcia, president of Ukrainian San Antonio, said she is feeling totally helpless as she worries about her parents, brother and his family living in Starokostyantyniv. Thursday morning, they woke up to hear a massive explosion near an airport, Garcia said.
“Our message here today is that the world needs to unite,” she said. “The world needs to realize that this is a critical moment, not just for Ukraine, but for the entire world.”
“This is a matter of days, hours that Ukrainians have. They need help,” added Khrystyuk.
Most in attendance said they want to see Europe, NATO and the U.S. support Ukraine and help bring peace.
Anna Stamps, who was born and raised in Ukraine and has lived in San Antonio for eight years, said she received several text messages around the same time early in the morning from friends and family in Ukraine.
“Whenever you hear about war or you hear on the news, it’s one thing, but when you receive a personal text [from the] people you grew up with, that you went to school with — your relatives are in that situation right now and you absolutely cannot do anything, just to speak up and show the support and love that we’re praying,” said Stamps. “Nobody wants war.”