In Metro Detroit, a call to action after Putin's push through Ukraine

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Warren — The blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flags furling in the cold wind as nearly 200 people applauded calls to action Thursday were a clear sign the Russian invasion has reverberated in Metro Detroit.

The day after Russian president Vladimir Putin announced military operation in Ukraine, a rally at St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Church in Warren aimed to show support for country and demand officials act to stop further violence.

“It’s an affront to all democracies,” said U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, D-Bloomfield Hills, a member of the House Ukraine Caucus who serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “… It’s an extremely grave matter.”

Ukrainian Americans and supporters gather Thursday for a rally, a day after Russia invaded Ukraine.

The event, coordinated by the Ukrainian-American Crisis Response Committee of Michigan, drew residents with ties to the region as well as elected officials and others in Metro Detroit.

Some who braved the chill in the parking lot outside St. Josaphat held homemade signs such as “Stand With Ukraine” or draped themselves in the country’s flag.

Mykola Murskyj, chair of the Ukrainian-American Crisis Response Committee of Michigan, noted the lingering unease in the community as the conflict brewed.

“It’s a difficult time for everybody,” he said. ."...We hope that by gathering here today we can signal to those that are in Ukraine and elsewhere protesting all around the world that we stand with them."

Irene Watts, whose late grandparents grew up in Ukraine and met in a concentration camp in the 1940s, grew tearful while thinking about their reaction to the invasion if they were alive.

“This would have broken them,” she said. “I’m glad they died knowing a free Ukraine.”

Some of the rally speakers urged local cities to welcome Ukrainian refugees and demanded severe consequences against Russia.

“We must listen to history,” Warren Mayor Jim Fouts said. “This can never happen again.”

Fouts said he hoped the Biden administration and international allies would stand up to Putin. “We can’t let that little man destroy the world,” he told the crowd.

Officials and humanitarian groups believe the situation overseas could trigger a refugee crisis.

There have already been reports of casualties and people fleeing their homes, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Rally participants are swathed in the colors of the Ukraine flag as they listen to speakers pleading for peace and protection for those in Ukraine.

Speakers pleaded for peace, justice and protection.

 "Hearts are breaking, bodies are breaking, spirits are breaking,” said Rabbi Yoni Dahlen of Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield. 

"But just as we hold space tonight for the brokenness, for tears, for anger, for exhaustion, we must also believe in the depths of our hearts and the resolve of the Ukrainian people. And the pride and worth of autonomy, of liberty, and in the dreams of a today and a tomorrow where our world will fight back with a strong and united voice against despotism, against bigotry and against hate."

The chance to speak out and highlight the cause drew attendees such as Elizabet Chekovich, 16, of Washington Township, who has relatives in Ukraine. “I just want to support my family,” Chekovich said. “What’s going on isn’t fair.”

Earlier Thursday, Michigan officials weighed in on the crisis.

“The invasion of Ukraine is an unjustifiable violation of international law, and we need an immediate diplomatic solution that ends hostilities and protects innocent lives,” U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib said in a statement. “We must be laser focused on protecting the millions of innocent lives in Ukraine that are now under unconscionable threat from Putin’s violent aggression." 

Wayne County Commission Chair Alisha Bell said: “At this perilous time, we stand together with the people of Ukraine and condemn this unprecedented attack on their nation and freedom. We also support efforts to bring this horrific and unprovoked situation to a resolution without any further bloodshed.”