Amid troubling times, Berkeley community shows support to Ukrainians

Photo of a ceremony for Ukraine
Jonathan Hale/Staff
Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín noted that the city of Berkeley hosted multiple rallies to show support for Ukraine.

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In the month since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Berkeley community members have been endlessly organizing to bring the community together and raise humanitarian funds.

Soon after the outbreak of the war, several campus students and staff founded Berkeley With Ukraine, or BWU, after different campus members hosted several rallies during the week the war broke out, according to Krzysztof Kozak, BWU member and campus postdoctoral student. The campus group is dedicated to fundraising and increasing awareness of the impacts of the invasion.

More than 6.48 million people were estimated to have been internally displaced in Ukraine as of March 16, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre.

“(The current situation in Ukraine is) devastation, destruction, constantly living in hell,” said Maksym Zubkov, a BWU member and campus Ukrainian graduate student. “(People are) scared that they are … going to be forgotten … and more people and more destruction is going to take place.”

The city of Berkeley also hosted rallies, including one March 24 to mark one month of the war, according to Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín. About 75 people showed up at Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park to hear speakers from the city of Berkeley and the Ukrainian community.

The Ukrainian flag was raised while the Ukrainian national anthem was sung, Arreguín added.

The future of international relations and the stability of democracy around the world is at stake, according to Arreguín, who added the threat of World War III and nuclear warfare is much higher than it was a few months ago.

“Berkeley has a lengthy history of standing up to injustices around the world,” Arreguín said in an email. “Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had called upon the world to hold rallies in solidarity to mark one month since the beginning of the war. Answering this call was the least we could do.”

In an effort to make events accessible to more people, Kozak has created a Google calendar consolidating most Bay Area war-related events, including protests, academic panels and church services fundraisers.

Kozak emphasized the importance of a correct narrative, as he said one event included “twisted” narratives about the war, and noted BWU will host an information table with an expert in international relations in Eastern Europe.

He added that soon after the war broke out, one ideology came out saying the war is a result of the imperialistic expansion of the North American Treaty Organization, or NATO, and that Russia’s invasion was a response to U.S. imperialism.

“(This perspective) is belittling to Ukraine and historically inaccurate to suggest that this war is just about a long-standing U.S.-Russia conflict,” Kozak said in an email. “It ignores the will of the sovereign Ukrainian people to self-determine and joins international organisms like NATO: paradoxically, it plays into the Russian narrative that Ukraine is not a real country or nation.”

The event, which will include a fundraiser, will occur Friday at 6 p.m. in Valley Life Sciences Building Room 2060, according to Kozak. The goal is to bring the community together for Ukrainian music and art, as well as raise funds for three humanitarian organizations, including Support Ukraine with Us.

Support Ukraine with Us, co-founded by Zubkov, aims to help low-income families with kids and the elderly get food and necessities. In addition, the organization is trying to get medicine and protection gear for Ukrainians on the front lines.

“At this particular moment, we actually need a lot of donations,” Zubkov said. “For example, as shown on the donation page, one required medicine costs a couple of thousand dollars.”

As of press time, $25,834 has been raised and more than 75 families — including 150 kids, 100 adults and 160 elders — have received assistance from Support Ukraine with Us.

Support Ukraine with Us and MagicPeopleStudio also hosted a fundraising event Saturday, gathering volunteers and providing a space for the Bay Area community to engage in Ukrainian affairs.

According to Zubkov, the event went successfully. They enjoyed Ukrainian music and food, got to know each other and recruited new volunteers. They will also be hosting a short movie night this coming Saturday, as well as a fundraising concert in May.

Kozak also added that more than 4 million Ukrainians, almost exclusively women and children due to Ukraine’s call for men aged 18 to 60 to stay in Ukraine, have left the country.

Most of the refugee population has ended up in Poland, Romania, Moldova and other neighboring countries, Kozak said. He noted the Polish border is open without any condition and waived advanced approval previously necessary to enter the country.

“Most Eastern European nations are Slavic, we kind of have a lot of shared background and cultural and linguistic similarities,” Kozak said. “At the end of the day … these people just are suddenly pouring in for your border, and you’ve got to help them.”

Contact Winnie Lau at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @winniewy_lau.