Around 40 people gathered on the south side of Capitol Hill in Salt Lake City on Feb. 25 to show support for the Ukrainian people as Russian troops move into Kyiv.
Participants included Ukrainians, BYU students and returned missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who served in the country. They waved Ukrainian flags and held signs with messages like “I stand with Ukraine,” “#stopputin” and “peace not war.” People driving by honked their horns in support.
BYU student Nathan Petersen, who served a mission in Ukraine from 2018 to 2020, said he organized the gathering to rally support and awareness for the Ukrainian people at this time.
Petersen said Ukraine has put up a really strong fight against the invading forces and he’s hopeful they can keep holding on. “The Ukrainian people are very strong, and I have every ounce of faith that they can get through this.”
“It’s hard to do stuff when you’re stuck in Provo, Utah,” he said. But one way to help is donating directly to Ukrainian people through different campaigns, he said.
Conflict escalated on Feb. 25 when Russian troops entered Kyiv, the Associated Press reported. Shelling sliced through a Kyiv apartment building and pummeled bridges and schools.
The attacks didn’t just begin this week. Russian president Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine and seized Crimea in 2014. Crimea is an important naval base where the majority of people identify as Russians, BYU history professor Jeff Hardy told The Daily Universe last month.
The former Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine voted for independence in a May 2014 referendum, becoming pro-Russia separatist governments. Putin officially recognized their independence on Feb. 21.
Charles Schaumann is a BYU student who served in Ukraine from 2017 to 2019. Schaumann’s mother is Russian and his grandmother is from Ukraine. “Up until (Putin) invaded, I didn’t think he ever would and I was really shocked by it,” Schaumann said.
Ukrainian student at Ensign College Kateryna Pavlenko is from Kyiv and has family there. “Ukraine wants to be more Western, join the European Union and be connected with the United States,” she said.
Pavlenko thought the conflict would stay on the eastern side of the country like it had been, so she wasn’t scared because Kyiv is far away from that. But now, the attacks are happening blocks away from her own home.
Pavlenko, who is part Russian and has a Russian grandfather, said she’s always thought of Russia as Ukraine’s “brother” or “neighbor.” “But it looks like Putin has some other plans for us.”
“We want people to understand that this is real,” she said, adding that while it’s not any other countries’ war to fight, the Ukrainian people still need help. “We want other countries to help us fight Russia. Because if you guys don’t help us now, it’ll spread. Putin won’t stop with Ukraine. He’ll go further.”
While there’s only so much everyday citizens can do, Schaumann encouraged individuals to pay attention to what’s happening. “Don’t let this just be a headline for a week.”
Mike Mower, who works for the governor’s office as Senior Advisor of Community Outreach and Intergovernmental Affairs, also joined the group to show support for Ukraine. “It’s a travesty what’s taking place,” he said.
Governor Spencer Cox tweeted in support of Ukraine on Feb. 23. “There is evil in this world. Tonight we pray for the safety of those in Ukraine.”
Petersen said the group will be back on Capitol Hill on Feb. 26 as well.
The First Presidency released this statement on Feb. 25:
“We are heartbroken and deeply concerned by the armed conflict now raging. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has members in each of the affected areas and throughout the world. Our minds and hearts have been turned toward them and all our brothers and sisters.
“We continue to pray for peace. We know that enduring peace can be found through Jesus Christ. He can calm and comfort our souls even in the midst of terrible conflicts. He taught us to love God and our neighbors.
“We pray that this armed conflict will end quickly, that the controversies will end peacefully and that peace will prevail among nations and within our own hearts. We plead with world leaders to seek for such resolutions and peace.”
The Church temporarily reassigned missionaries in Ukraine to other locations outside the country at the end of January. It is unclear whether missionaries in Russia will be relocated.