March for Ukraine organized by Northeastern student gathers thousands


Thousands attended a march Sunday to show support for Ukraine, organized by Ukranian Northeastern student Diana Zlotnikova. Photo credit Erin Fine.

Erin Fine, news staff

Thousands attended a march Feb. 27 to show support for Ukraine, organized by Ukranian Northeastern student Diana Zlotnikova. 

The march began in the Boston Common and traveled down Newbury Street, with protestors bearing the blue and yellow of Ukraine’s flag and chanting “hands off Ukraine” and “stop the war.” A group led the march with a large heart made up of dozens of blue and yellow balloons.

Since Russia invaded Ukrainian territory  Feb. 24, over 2 million Ukrainians have fled the country. The conflict between both countries is part of the larger Russo-Ukrainian tensions since 2014. Fourth-year business administration major Zlotnikova said as the invasion approaches its second week, her morality is low.

“One of these really difficult moments for me this week is that for most people around me, for my friends who don’t have a connection with Ukraine, realizing for the rest of them life goes on,” Zlotnikova said. “It’s a hard thing to process. While my world falls apart for some reason, for them nothing has happened.”

Zlotnikova said Friday before the march she expected about 350 participants, but over 5,000 people arrived to show their support. The march lasted for two hours, ending at the Massachusetts State House.

“I really appreciate the amount of support we’re getting from around the university and our friends and people we don’t even know,” Zlotnikova said. 

While planning the march, she reached out to the Ukrainian communities at several colleges around Boston, including Northeastern, Harvard University, Boston University and Tufts University. The news of a march also spread swiftly through Ukrainian Facebook groups. Zlotnikova said the response was a widespread show of unity.

“We’re trying to stick together, to stay together,” Zlotnikova said. “We’re trying to be united. One of the main reasons [for the march is] … to show support to each other is because it’s a shared experience for everyone. Most of the people who are going to be participating in the march, they have family back in Ukraine, friends back in Ukraine.”

While Russia continues its military invasion of Ukraine, marchers with ties to Russia disagreed with the actions of their homeland. Many Russians and Ukrainians alike have loved ones in the country that they are now at war with.

“It’s painful, and my husband is from Ukraine and I’m from Russia,” said Katya Brezgunova, a writer and co-founder of TurnPark Art Space, who attended the march. “None of my friends wanted this war, and it’s all because of one crazy dictator.”

As a Ukrainian, Zlotnikova agrees.

“It’s a war between Putin and the rest of the world,” Zlotnikova said. “A lot of Russian people are showing so much sympathy. … Most of them support the idea that this war is totally pointless.” 

In many Russian cities, protestors are also taking to the streets in opposition to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, leading to hundreds of arrests per day. The unity Zlotnikova brought together on Newbury Street is an echo of the togetherness from Boston to across the Atlantic Ocean and beyond.

Northeastern students also had a significant presence at the march. Ukrainian students led the charge, with other members of the student body showing their support.

“Why would it not matter to you?” said Amelia Carlan, a first-year in the Explore Program. “There are people that are suffering.”

Stefania Bielkina, a junior at Milton Academy, worked on arranging transportation from her school. Bielkina is from Ukraine and wanted to show high schoolers how they could help.

“When I first found the article saying that there would be a march I honestly didn’t think a lot of people would show up, and I was hesitant to organize transportation from Milton Academy to the march,” Bielkina said. Still, she and the two other Ukrainian students at Milton Academy received overwhelming support from their student body.

“Just the solidarity of my peers who weren’t even Ukrainian,” Bielkina said. “I was there with my Dominican friend, and she marched with me the entire time. … It was Dominican Independence Day [Sunday] and, instead, she chose to go with me to the march.”

Even as rallies across the United States and the world rise up in support of Ukraine, the country is still facing an active invasion. Several Ukrainians who spoke with The News said they fear for the safety of their loved ones as the situation abroad changes rapidly, and many are left without ways to communicate.

“A very close family friend, she’s been left in Ukraine,” Bielkina said. “She’s been sending me audio messages of [her son] crying out in fear … it’s just this perpetual fear that my loved ones have been experiencing. The word refugee always felt very far away from me. … When Putin attacked my homeland the word refugee became very close to home.”

Besides rallying as a show of support, Zlotnikova named two donation sites that those that wish to show financial support to Ukraine’s military can donate to. One is a fund for the Ukrainian armed forces by the National Bank of Ukraine. The other is the Return Alive Foundation, which donates to Ukrainian armed forces and veterans. 

Zlotnikova also arranged a drive for medical supplies with the charity Sunflower of Peace, which they shipped to Ukraine March 2.

In the future, Zlotnikova is planning to create a charity event at Northeastern with the proceeds going to Ukrainian charities. She said she wants professors from colleges around Boston to speak on the invasion.

Zlotnikova said that she was grateful for the widespread support from the Northeastern community and all over the world, but she also emphasized the repercussions of the invasion go beyond Ukrainian borders.

“It’s a tragedy for everyone,” Zlotnikova said. “It’s a tragedy for the whole world, really.”

This story was updated March 10 to reflect more interviews with Zlotnikova.