Community members honor Ukrainians lost in conflict with Russia through candlelight vigil


Joanne Haner/Daily Senior Staffer

History Prof. Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern speaks at the vigil.

Emma Rosenbaum, Newsletter Editor

As more than 100 community members silently filed into Alice Millar Chapel for the vigil Thursday evening, they were each handed a candle to honor Ukrainians lost in the war. 

Within minutes, Communication Prof. and Director of Religious and Spiritual Life Kent Brooks  began playing the piano. Organizers then played a Ukrainian song traditionally played at funerals of soldiers over a speaker.

Northwestern for Ukraine began planning the event a week and a half ago as part of a nationwide series of vigils organized by the Ukrainian Student Union of America. The event featured a candle-lighting ceremony and speeches from Ukrainian students and faculty.

Thursday marks six weeks since Russian troops invaded Ukraine, bombing and besieging cities. Over four million people have left the country. 

Some student speakers shared stories of their family and friends in Ukraine. Weinberg freshman Shayna Garla spoke on behalf of Weinberg freshman Inna Sokolenko, sharing the story of Sokolenko’s family fleeing Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. 

McCormick sophomore Sonya Voloboi, who immigrated to the U.S. in 2010, discussed her visit to her family in Ukraine this past December. Her family members also had to leave their homes, Voloboi said.

Both Sokolenko and Voloboi said mornings are the scariest, as they’re not sure what has happened to their home country while they were asleep. 

“Although I dream of returning to Kyiv, I am scared to see how my home city has changed,” Garla read for Sokolenko.

Weinberg sophomore Irena Petryk also read text messages between a mother and her son from a viral Instagram post. Voloboi said alongside sharing their own experiences, members of NU for Ukraine wanted to pay tribute to people experiencing the war firsthand. In the messages, the mother texts her son that she and her husband are alive, and she describes the war in Mariupol — not knowing if her son is receiving the texts. 

The vigil finished with a candle-lighting ceremony. While the attendees sat with their own candles, Weinberg sophomore Valeriia Rohoza read the names of some Ukrainians killed in the war, personalizing the human toll of the conflict.

“You hear numbers on the news, and every day the number of civilians dead is increasing,” Voloboi said. “The number of children dead is increasing. But you don’t really ever get a face put to those numbers.”

Speakers also shared stories of resilience. Rohoza spoke about their best friend who helps connect Ukrainian citizens with volunteer organizations and supplies. 

History Prof. Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern spoke about his mother, a former student and a friend who have led efforts to aid fellow Ukrainians. 

Petrovsky-Shtern’s mother, who lives in Ukraine, regularly speaks with journalists from English-language outlets because not many people can speak English, he said. These journalists sometimes supply her with food, which she brings to those who have lost their jobs and homes. 

Petrovsky-Shtern also shared that his former student left Norway and went to the Romanian-Ukrainian border to aid Ukrainian refugees. Another friend in Spain is volunteering with the Red Cross to help settle Ukrainian refugees, he said.

“My impression was that everybody has Ukraine in her or his heart,” he said. “Everybody was helping the Ukrainian effort.”

NU for Ukraine has been fundraising since Feb. 25, donating almost $16,000 to organizations such as Come Back Alive, Razom for Ukraine and Nova Ukraine that are sending resources to Ukraine. The group meets several times a week to plan events and create community, Voloboi said. 

Since returning from Spring Break, NU for Ukraine has set up a fundraising table at the McGaw YMCA and the Feinberg School of Medicine. It is also partnering with Ten Thousand Villages Evanston on Saturday for its next fundraiser. 

Voloboi said the vigil feels like a turning point after the group’s fundraising efforts.

“We wanted to have an event that wasn’t just about money, but also just about creating a space to mourn all of those deaths and really reflect on the past (42) days of the war,” Voloboi said.

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Twitter: @EmmaCRosenbaum

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