Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot joined hundreds of demonstrators who gathered Sunday in Ukrainian Village to decry Russia’s invasion of its eastern European neighbor.
Pritzker, the great-grandson of a Ukrainian refugee, started his speech by taking a shot at the Russian president who ordered the sweeping military action: “Screw Vladimir Putin!”
“Illinois is taking a stand against the bloodthirsty Russian invasion of the sovereign nation of Ukraine,” Pritzker said to the massive throng gathered outside Saints Volodymyr & Olha Catholic Church, many of whom hoisted signs assailing Putin and calling for NATO’s assistance in beating back the Russian invaders.
Lightfoot went even further and called for Putin to be tried for “war crimes” before a military tribunal.
“We have to continue to raise our voices and not be silent in the face of this tyranny, this murderous operation by Putin,” said Lightfoot, who at times was drowned out by hecklers in the crowd. “We have to continue to fight and provide weapons and humanitarian aid.”
On Thursday — after ample warning of an impending invasion — Russian troops began moving into Ukraine on multiple fronts, claiming hundreds of lives. While Ukrainian military fighters and civilians have put up a stiff resistance to the onslaught, Putin escalated tensions this weekend by putting his nuclear forces on alert.
Congressmen Mike Quigley, Danny Davis and Raja Krishnamoorthi also spoke Sunday, but the most impassioned appeal for Ukrainian peace came from 18-year-old Tanya Fedak, a second-generation immigrant who lives in suburban Elgin.
Fedak centered her emotional speech by reflecting on Russia’s history of killing innocent Ukrainians, contextualizing the current crisis by reflecting on the Holodomor famine in Soviet Ukraine that claimed millions of lives. She recalled the “indifference” she faced when she educated her classmates on the genocide, an experience that she said left her “shocked and upset.”
“It is now four years later and I am no longer shocked but remain upset,” she said. “Today, I am upset with those who are unwilling to learn. I am upset with those who can look in the face of disaster and make jokes of it.
“I am upset with the Russians who drive their tanks over civilians’ cars with people inside of them on their way to take even more lives. Today, I am upset with Vladimir Putin.”
Fedak insisted that “now is not the time for empty words and empty promises,” adding that Ukraine is in dire need of help. She bemoaned world leaders who she claimed have watched the “mass destruction” unfold while offering only “thoughts and prayers” without providing “physical support” for the imperiled country.
Although Fedak credited the economic sanctions imposed on Russia, she noted they make take weeks to have an effect. She then rattled off a list of additional proposed actions to uproarious cheers and applause from the crowd.
“We must immediately isolate them further [and] fail to issue visas to Russian travelers; prevent Russian planes from flying over Ukraine; refuse to buy Russian products; and abolish any trade agreements that are currently standing,” she said. “However, what we really need is military support.”
Protesters filled the streets surrounding the church and at times broke into cheers of “save Ukraine” and “U.S.A. help Ukraine.” But despite some moments of levity, the dire events playing out thousands of miles away loomed large.
Anton Stupak said he and his wife fled the Ukrainian capital of Kiev in 2014, when the Maidan Revolution led to the ouster of former Russian-backed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Stupak, a former member of a punk rock band with a long history of activism, said he feared retribution because he was publishing the personal information of Ukrainian officials.
“They put on my car a note that I must stop saying what I was saying online or I will die,” Stupak said.
The couple, who live in Romeoville, now fear for their loved ones in Ukraine. Stupak’s wife, Kristina Babych, said her mother is sheltering in a basement as her brother fights in Bila Tserkva. Meanwhile, they both feel that American officials aren’t doing enough to intervene.
“They don’t understand the damage,” Babych said. “They don’t understand that people are dying right now. … I’m talking to everybody I know just to check that they’re still alive, that they’re still breathing.”