COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Ukrainians in Ohio are honoring the thousands of lives lost since Russia’s war began one year ago with a vigil at the statehouse on Friday. 

(Courtesy Photo/Natalia Lebedin)

The Ukrainian Cultural Association of Ohio is marking the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion with “365 Days of Defending Freedom” at 6 p.m. on Friday at Capitol Square on the west side of the Ohio Statehouse. Association President Natalia Lebedin said the vigil aims to culminate a year of Ukrainian perseverance and unite diverse communities. 

“Our world was turned upside down because we had so many friends and family in Ukraine,” said Lebedin. “Now, for the past year, we’ve been doing as much as we possibly can to raise awareness.”

A year of Russian onslaught

Lebedin vividly remembers the mounting rumors of the Russian army amassing toward Ukraine’s eastern border in early 2022. However, warnings of a full-scale invasion gave the Ukrainian community a hint of deja vu back to nine years prior. 

President Vladimir Putin signed the annexation of Crimea into law in March 2014 after military exercises by Russian armed forces led to gunmen seizing government buildings and airports in Crimea. Lebedin said Ukrainians in Ohio protested and raised funds in opposition but faced a lack of support outside of the community. 

Through the years, the association has continued to promote Ukrainian culture through workshops and fundraising. Still, the pain inflicted in 2014 lingered and was reignited on Feb. 24, 2022, when Russian troops crossed the border into Ukraine. Since then, nearly 200,000 Russian troops, more than 100,000 Ukrainian soldiers and 30,000 civilians have died. 

“We knew that it could happen, but we hoped it wouldn’t,” Lebedin said. “So, it was with great dismay, sadness, despair, that we woke up that Thursday morning to hear of the full-scale invasion.” 

Friday’s anniversary follows President Joe Biden’s visit to the warzone for a meeting with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the first visit to Ukraine by a U.S. president in almost 15 years. Biden announced another delivery of equipment and additional sanctions against Russian elites and companies. 

Joe Biden, Volodymyr Zelenskyy
President Joe Biden walks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Cathedral on a surprise visit, Monday, Feb. 20, 2023, in Kyiv. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Without this direct support from the United States, Lebedin said Ukraine would not have been able to withstand “a year of Russian onslaught.” She urges U.S. leaders and those outside of the community to continue offering support to the war effort. 

“If Ukraine is not supported, it would be disastrous for U.S. security and democracy in the world,” Lebedin said.

How Ohioans can support Ukraine

Ohio is home to more than 40,000 residents of Ukrainian descent, including more than 20,000 in Cleveland, nearly 5,000 in Columbus and almost 4,000 in Cincinnati. Those communities remain steadfast in ensuring the U.S. and other western countries continue supporting the war effort, Lebedin said. 

The association is raising funds to support the purchase of medical supplies for Dr. Viktor Panfilov at Pirogov First Volunteer Mobile Hospital based in Kremenets, Ukraine. Through donations, the association has sent him tourniquets and blood clotting bandages, which he then supplies to medics who distribute them to the front lines. An anonymous donor has agreed to match all donations up to $5,000, Lebedin said. Donate by clicking here

“We are devastated as we are proud to know that these tourniquet and blood clotting bandages make their way to places like Bakhmut, which are seeing really devastating losses of life,” Lebedin said. 

The United Ukrainian Organizations of Ohio is also hosting a prayer service and community gathering at St. Vladimir Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Parma at 5 p.m. on Saturday. The organization’s fundraising has been providing humanitarian aid since 1990. Donate here

In addition, Global Cleveland is operating several initiatives as northeast Ohio receives large numbers of refugees, including connecting Ukrainians with legal support, collaborating with large organizations for medical supplies and more. View more resources and how Ohioans can aid the organization here

Direct Relief is also accepting donations to equip doctors and nurses with medical resources, and programs by Mercy Corps are a source of immediate relief and long-term support for communities in Ukraine. Donations to Save the Children also provide direct aid, including food, water, hygiene kits and more. 

“For a year now, Ukrainians have been dying, sacrificing themselves for freedom,” Lebedin said. “Not just for them, but for Europe and the world. For democracy everywhere.”