With missiles and uncertainty in the air 5,000 miles away, hundreds of Ukrainians and their supporters descended on the former grounds of a world’s fair for a much graver international cause on Saturday. Against the spit of Seattle in February, a rally was held next to the Space Needle in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
It could have been a grim gathering, given the circumstances and the weather. But those in attendance mirrored the resistance of Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian comedian-turned-president whose defiant stand in Kyiv has made him a legend of the internet currently and probably, in his country, permanently.
Rallygoers chanted “slava Ukraini!” (“glory to Ukraine!”) while jabbing flags and signs in the air. Messages ranged from “Putin Hands Off Ukraine” to the defiant “Russian Warship, Go Fuck Yourself.” Nearly all featured the country’s national colors of blue and yellow.
Those hues appeared in other prominent places across the city this past weekend: Sounders players’ shirts to Great Wheel spokes to the Space Needle itself later Saturday night. Seattle showed its support for a nation with the largest presence of foreign-born residents in Washington than any other European country.
But the most influential displays were undoubtedly photos from anti-war gatherings at the University of Washington and the Space Needle. They were shared via social media with people holed up in Ukraine. “I know that they’re seeing that and feeling the prayers,” said Yuliya, who attended Saturday’s rally with her husband and one-year-old daughter.
The mental health counselor on the Eastside grew up in Odessa, Ukraine, but has lived in the U.S. for almost 25 years. Like others at the event, Yuliya asked that her full name be withheld as friends and family in Ukraine sought safety. Many of those loved ones were scared for their lives, she said. Cousins and aunts were en route to the Polish border. “Families are being ripped apart.”
A broken heart was at the center of the sign she held. Yellow and blue handprints, including some of her daughter’s, surrounded it.
It’s been a mix of emotions, Yuliya stressed. While she’s fearful for those abroad, she’s also grateful to raise her child in a country where events like the rally could occur peacefully.
Organized by the Ukrainian Association of Washington, the event included speeches from politicians and local affinity groups for nations surrounding Ukraine. U.S. representative Rick Larsen drew applause after saying that the U.S. should “cripple” Russia’s economy and leadership, specifically president Vladimir Putin, for its unprovoked aggression. While an organizer did note there were a few “provocateurs” in the crowd, they were greatly outnumbered by those supporting the Ukrainian cause, including some Russians.
The unity and conviction at the rally didn’t surprise Yuliya. “We’ll fight to the end,” she said of Ukrainians. “We’re very supportive of each other. We’re like a big family.” In addition to funds for those in the war zone, she hopes locals will raise awareness about the “generations of trauma” Ukrainians have endured, including famine and multiple violent conflicts.
Natalya Altman, a Ballard resident with extended family in Ukraine, cited the same perseverance. But she wondered why Ukrainians needed to exercise that muscle of determination once more. “It’s nothing but tragedy,” she said.
The Ukrainian Association of Washington has already scheduled another rally next Saturday. Same time, same place.