NEW YORK—A team of Ukrainian-American teens held a memorial in the East Village Sunday for people who were killed during protests in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Candles flickered over dozens of black and white photos of those who died in Ukraine, surrounded by yellow flowers on the pavement outside a Ukrainian youth organization. To the youth who created the memorial, it is a means of giving the voiceless a chance to be seen, if not heard.
“It’s difficult for [people] to visualize it and see what’s actually happening,” said 14-year-old Marko Cohen, who hustled from candle to candle, making sure they remained lit.
Marko was part of the group who had the idea for the memorial. He attends the Ukrainian American Youth Association (UAYA) housed in the building next to which the memorial lies. The youth have also started collecting money and clothes to send to the Ukrainian protesters.
A second-generation American who speaks Ukrainian, Marko feels like he’s part of a historical event. He uses various social platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, to spread the word among his friends.
But for the young Marko, who likes to learn about the history of Ukraine, it’s news that hits home. The Cohens have family in Kyiv who they keep in touch with regularly.
“It’s nerve racking, [they] don’t know what’s going to happen, how they’re going to be,” he said.
Marko’s mother, Iryna Nauholnyk-Cohen, works at the New York branch of the UAYA, was speaking to the press Sunday afternoon. The UAYA is a nonprofit youth organization that also has offices abroad. The New York branch is part of 28 chapters in 12 states.
For Nauholnyk-Cohen, there’s a big difference between the Orange Revolution and today’s protesting at Independence Square, or Maidan, as protesters turn to social media to reach out, collect evidence, and spread the word.
“We’re now on Internet, on Facebook gathering as many videos as we can of the snipers, of shooting, so that we have evidence of what happened,” she said. As a mother of a 17-year-old, Nauholnyk-Cohen was shocked when she heard that a young man of the same age was killed during the protests.
“These were just normal, everyday people just struggling for their freedom,” she said.
Nauholnyk-Cohen’s sister, Dania Lawro, stood over the memorial. She’s the president of the New York UAYA branch.
Lawro said youth who come in on Saturdays for Ukrainian school watch the news about the protests in Kyiv every week. Lawro wants people to come by and say a prayer and realize the importance of what the protesters are doing back at home.
“They didn’t just die for a Ukrainian cause, they did it for humanity,” Lawro said.