TUSCON, Ariz.—Maximilian Lautaire, 12, of Texas hugged the blue-and-yellow flag of Ukraine as if it was his own country’s banner.
It was, in a very personal sense, the flag of his family heritage, as several of his close relatives hail from Ukraine.
“My Mom was from Ukraine. My uncle and my aunt are also from Ukraine,” Lautaire said as a crowd of more than 200 gathered at Jacome Plaza in downtown Tucson, Arizona, on March 6 to protest against the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Lautaire said it was “sad” that people in that far away land were suffering and dying, which was why he came from hundreds of miles away to attend the rally.
Sponsored by the Ukrainian American Society of Tucson, the rally called for unity between the two countries and an end to “Russian aggression” and the occupation of Crimea and other territories in eastern Ukraine.
The protest also called for the “release of all Ukrainian citizens unjustly imprisoned by Russia.”
A number of protesters at the rally waved American and Ukrainian flags and carried signs while shouting, “Russia out of Ukraine” and “Ukraine matters,” among other slogans. Some people called for the assassination of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Ukrainian native Diana Babiy said she had been traveling abroad when the fighting in eastern Ukraine began on Feb. 24. Now she sees the nationwide conflict in Ukraine as a global fight against tyranny.
“We cannot let the world get used to [the invasion]. We have to keep screaming from every corner,” Babiy said as she addressed the large crowd through a bullhorn.
While in Arizona, “I’m doing everything possible to help here in the state,” Babiy told The Epoch Times.
The rally began at 1 p.m. with the singing of the American and Ukrainian national anthems, followed by passionate speeches from organizers and protesters.
“I think this is a fight for democracy.” Angela Donofrio of Tucson said while hoisting a blue-and-yellow sign that read “No War.” “I can’t believe this is happening.”
“I think we need to support the Ukrainians” in the form of oil sanctions against Russia, Donofrio, a Democrat, told The Epoch Times. “And we need to stop [Putin’s] GOP sympathizers.”
Through a bullhorn, Martha Toci shouted, “Stop Putin in his tracks!” and urged the West to “keep pressure” on Russia to stop the war.
“The world will no longer put up with bullies and terrorists in our world,” said Toci, whose family emigrated from Ukraine after World War II. “Then when Ukraine is free, please come and visit Ukraine.”
Toci said that because the wounds of World War II are still “fresh” in the minds of many Ukrainians, the Russian invasion is just as painful.
During the rally, a lone counter-protester began shouting that Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky both serve the World Economic Forum, a globalist organization. The man said the United States shouldn’t go to war for “globalist” interests, before rally organizers escorted him away.
Among the rally protesters were Phoenix area residents Charlie Masters and his wife Alina, who also have a home in Kyiv, Ukraine.
In tears, Alina, a native of Ukraine, addressed the rally.
“I hope he doesn’t do this,” she said, referring to Putin’s talk of using nuclear weapons if the West attacks.
Masters said his wife was fortunate to be able to flee Ukraine when hostilities erupted in late February. Alina then spent several days with friends in Prague and Switzerland before she arrived safely back in the United States.
“She didn’t know what was going on,” Masters told The Epoch Times regarding the invasion. “She packed a backpack and left.”
Veronika Williams, a Russian native and lecturer as well as an event and recruitment organizer in the Department of Russian and Slavic Studies at the University of Arizona, expressed her “hope for peace” at the March 6 rally.
“I’m Russian. I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to Russia anymore,” she told the crowd as she broke into tears.
Her colleague, Dr. Colleen Lucey, also spoke at the protest and read a poem by Ukrainian poet Shevchenko. A number of graduate students, as well as other professors from the university, attended the rally.
While other protesters at the rally called for multinational intervention in Ukraine and harsh sanctions against Russia, Don Haynes of Tucson said “there’s always a spiritual solution” to the crisis.
“It may not necessarily fit a worldly solution—maybe on an individual level [to] help us get through it all,” Haynes told The Epoch Times.