One Year ago, Russia invaded Ukraine. And as the world’s eyes turned toward Kiev last February, some Upper Peninsula residents quickly formed a group to support Ukraine and their citizens. Yoopers for Ukraine organizer, Nadija Packauskas, says that a year later the status on the ground in Ukraine is resistance.
“A year later the current status is resistance. We’re calling a one year mark of resistance because, honestly, last year at this point, and even before the invasion. Many of us were glued to the news, paying attention to the Russian tanks. Wondering if the west was going step in before the invasion happened. And then in disbelief when, February 24th turned into a nightmare for 44 million Ukrainians.” – Nadija Packaukas, Organizer with Yoopers for Ukraine
Yoopers for Ukraine has grown far beyond the few students and local residents who met at the Lift Bridge once a week. Throughout the year the group held in person fundraising events for medical packs, and spoke with legislators in Washington D.C. Starting small, Yoopers for Ukraine, began by walking across the Portage Lake Lift Bridge weekly out of solidarity for those affected. Then organizers followed up by protesting rape as a weapon of war simultaneously with many other groups around the globe.
“In May, on May 28th, we rallied with six continents of women at the same time saying, ‘Our bodies are not a battlefield, no to rape as a weapon of war’. That’s the first time it’s ever been done, and it was done simultaneously. And we did our on breakers beach. And it was a live broadcast, so we could all do it together. Our live broadcast was with a group in South Africa, and our reporters were from South Africa, Italy, and France. That kind of global recognition for the Upper Peninsula and to fight for such an important cause. Because one of the tragedies of this war is that of course we know that Russia, has fought a barbaric war, and continues to do so.” – Nadija Packaukas, Organizer with Yoopers for Ukraine
Yoopers for Ukraine also marked May 9th as Russian Shame Day. And held an Art and Film Gala fundraiser that was the premiere North American screening for 52 Days of War. That film depicted the first 52 days of the Russian invasion with photos compiled from 52 photographers spread across the war front. But according to Packauskas says their biggest accomplishment over the year has been the community they have built, here at home, and with those in Ukraine.
Hearing Packauskas well up with tears speaking about the families, lives and individuals affected by invasion puts into perspective just how desperate the people of Ukraine are to seek safe haven. She says that many of them express that they do not want to stay in the United States. That they want desperately to return to their homes, and rebuild their communities.
“It’s emotional to think about someone who has been through war, and then been through the refugee process in Europe, and then come across the globe to the Upper Peninsula, of course to open arms. And of course seeking a safe haven for their children. The difference between most Ukrainian refugees and other war refugees or asylum seekers, is that the Ukraineians coming to the United States want to return to Ukraine. They know this is an interim to keep their families safe. Keep their children safe. But they full-heartedly want to return to a free Ukraine. And rebuild their country. And that still stands today. So as honored as we are to have the refugees, and so the idea that we’ve been able to create community for people here is absolutely beautiful. But we’re creating that community so that they can return home, and recreate a better community.” – Nadija Packaukas, Organizer with Yoopers for Ukraine
A brief look at the Yoopers for Ukraine facebook page reveals many of the atrocities occurring in the country. But a deeper looks shows a network of individuals from around the Upper Peninsula, United States, globe, and yes, Ukraine. All sharing the incredible stories of support and survival that have occurred since day one of the invasion.
“So not only have we rallied with people here in the Upper Peninsula, but we’ve rallied with people across the globe, and particularly with those in Ukraine. One o the things we do here at all of our events, we send pictures immediately to people on the front lines. And we send them to anyone we can, in Ukraine we’ve developed a lot of connections. And we have more now than we did back a year ago. And one of the little girls sent us a message back, almost immediately, on one of our events, and said ‘Is Houghton a big city? Where is this that so many Ukrainian flags are?’. And this was after our Un-victory March, and she had been in a bunker for two and a half months. Of course I sent back explaining where the Mitten was, and where we are, and that we are a very small town, but we have a lot of heart for Ukraine. And that human connection, has become what our motto is today, and that is, Heartbeats for Humanity, Makes Humanity’s Heartbeat Stronger.”– Nadija Packaukas, Organizer with Yoopers for Ukraine
Yoopers for Ukraine will lead a quiet, reflective candlelight vigil tonight at the Portage Lake Lift Bridge starting at 6 pm, near the Downtowner. Organizers ask that those attending prepare for the weather and dress appropriately. The vigil will include a playing of the Ukrainian national anthem, and will last for about 20 minutes. For those that can’t make it there tonight, Packauskas says you can show support for Ukraine by wearing blue and yellow, the colors of their flag. She also asks that any sign of support for Ukraine can make a world of difference for the people still there. If you want to find out more about yoopers for ukraine and their awareness efforts over the past year, you can find the group on facebook.