“As Jews who have come from Ukraine and Russia and still have loved ones in those lands, we share your despair,” said Rabbi Debra Rappaport as she prayed at the podium for Ukraine. “May God grant the Ukrainian people the continuing fortitude to resist and reverse this onslaught from Russia.”
The rally on the steps of Minnesota’s Capitol building, organized by the Ukrainian American Community Center, called for more U.S. military aid to Ukraine; heavier sanctions against Russia; Minnesota’s divestment from Russian companies; and for the U.S. and NATO to create a no-fly zone over Ukraine.
Luda Anastazievsky, chair of the Minnesota Ukrainian American Advocacy Committee, led the hundreds of people in attendance in chants of “defensive arms now,” “no-fly zone,” and “we stand with Ukraine.”
The rally was attended by local Minnesota leaders like Gov. Tim Walz and Mayor Jacob Frey, the Consul General of the Canadian consulate in Minneapolis, and representatives of Germany, Sweden, Romania, and others. Lithuanian, Polish, and Georgian flags decorated the crowd along Ukraine’s blue and yellow.
Ukrainian community leaders were blunt about the urgent need for more assistance. Russia has reportedly committed several war crimes since it invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.
“Bombs, literally, bombs, are falling on my city, Mariupol,” Anastazievsky said. Mariupol is a major port city in southeastern Ukraine where Russia has violated a humanitarian ceasefire.
“Thousands of people have been killed or wounded,” Anastazievsky said. “Civilians trying to leave the city are being shot at despite the negotiated agreement to allow a [humanitarian] corridor out of the city. And I can’t get in touch with my friends and relatives there for the past seven days.”
Actions in support of Ukraine are already being taken at the state level. Gov. Tim Walz proclaimed that March 6 is “Ukraine Solidarity Day,” and has ordered state agencies to cancel all contracts with Russian companies and organizations.
“Without Ukrainian Minnesotans there is no Minnesota and today, we are all Ukrainians,” Walz said. “The Ukrainians have shown us what courage looks like…what true freedom fighters look like. We need to stand with them.”
A bill to divest the state pension fund of all Russian investments was announced at the rally. The Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas is helping to advocate for the bill at the state legislature.
“One thing we can do as Minnesotans is divestment. We’re talking about a no-fly zone — let’s have a no-buy zone for Russia,” said Steve Hunegs, executive director of the JCRC.
And Jacob Millner, director of the American Jewish Committee office in the Twin Cities, outlined the AJC’s global support of Ukraine.
“We support Ukraine’s candidacy to be a member of the European Union. We support the ICC criminal investigations into Russian war crimes. We support the toughest possible sanctions aimed to curb Russia’s malign behavior,” he said as the crowd cheered.
The Jewishness of Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, was also brought up with great pride by organizers, one of whom said, “the Jewish people have been courageous throughout history, and they know what is at stake. That’s why that courage flows through the blood of our president. We are so honored to have a president that we can be proud of, who didn’t run away when he was offered the opportunity.”
HIAS helped my mother’s family escape Ukraine in the early 1920s. HIAS is now helping all Ukrainians.