By Marcia Bronstein
The crowd swelled at the rally’s designated meeting point — the towering Philadelphia Museum of Art steps.
Although just a day after a blizzard in our region, the warmth of friendship filled the air, along with numerous yellow and blue flags that represented the Ukrainian skies and wheat fields.
Standing together with the Ukrainian community were many elected officials and dignitaries and communities representing Belarus, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Uzbekistan — each carrying signs of support and flags of their home countries. The unified message was clear: We stand with a democratic and independent Ukraine and against Russian aggression.
U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, co-chair of the Congressional Ukrainian Caucus, declared, “Unequivocally, we will stand with Ukrainian allies and hold Russia accountable. All NATO allies and every freedom-loving country needs to do the same.”
I came and spoke as a concerned Jew. My family is from Ukraine. They settled there after returning from Siberia where they endured the war fleeing one step ahead of the Einsatzgruppen, the Nazi paramilitary death squads who murdered more than 2 million people. Leaving their hometown of Shedrin in Belarus, they existed in survival mode in Siberia. Upon arriving in Ukraine, they had one hope: to resume life.
I had planned to visit relatives in Rostov and several Ukrainian cities in 1988 along with my uncle David and cousin Marty. The visa application and passport photo, which I still have, were never used because our relatives were too frightened to have American visitors. Not wanting to jeopardize their safety, we canceled our trip plans.
The Ukrainian people want the same thing my family wanted: safety, protection and normalcy. That is in jeopardy today as Russia has deployed more than 120,000 troops along the border of Ukraine to the north, the east and the south. They are there to instill fear, intimidate and threaten the country.
American Jewish Committee Philadelphia/Southern NJ works hard to support Ukraine through our longstanding partnership with the Ukrainian Federation of America. Ukraine officially declared itself an independent state on Aug. 24, 1991, and AJC has never wavered in its support. Just a few weeks ago, a high-level national AJC delegation was in Ukraine to demonstrate solidarity and support with the government and Jewish community.
Philadelphia City Councilmember David Oh, U.S. Rep Dwight Evans, U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle and U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean reinforced the message that Russia does not have the right to determine the future of another sovereign nation, and Ukraine has the right to protect its own fate, borders and citizens. Russian aggression and any attempt at invasion must be stopped.
The stakes could not be higher at this moment. President Putin said in 2005 that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century. Today, his goal is to reconstitute as much of the so-called Russian sphere of influence as possible.
We are stronger when we work together with coalition partners and friends. Allies can amplify our voices and stand up for our shared humanity. The future of Ukrainian independence and democracy are at stake. The democratic values we advocate for around the world and hold dear are at stake. As Jews, we know well what happens when democracy is challenged and the rule of law eliminated.
Iryna Mazur, honorary consul of Ukraine in Philadelphia and a lead organizer of the demonstration, proclaimed that “this rally sends a message from all of us gathered here today, that we stand for peace and justice. We stand for international order and, with a united voice, we demand an end to Putin’s aggression and an end to war.”
American global leadership, in unison with our key western European allies, is key to ending this crisis, to compelling Putin to stand down. All of us who love democracy and freedom need to be laser-focused on #SolidaritywithUkraine.
Marcia Bronstein is regional director of American Jewish Committee Philadelphia/Southern New Jersey.