Oleksandra Nelson felt shocked when she first saw the news about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February. Now, she said she feels even more heartbroken that the war still continues around eight months later.
Nelson left Ukraine with her parents when she was seven years old, but most of Nelson’s family still lives in Ukraine. Nelson’s aunt and uncle were not able to leave their home in southern Ukraine until a little bit over a month ago because it has been occupied by Russian forces.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February is the largest military mobilization in Europe since 1945. Russian president Vladimir Putin has said the reason for the attack on Ukraine was to demilitarize Ukraine.
Putin’s administration has made it clear Russia is seeking to install a new government in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. On Monday, multiple missile strikes hit many cities across the country, including the center of Kyiv.
Nelson, president of the Ukrainian Student Association, led the Gainesville Ukrainian community to mobilize toward providing aid and coping with the pain and grief of their home country’s destruction.
The association held a drive in March for medical supplies and held their first vigil in April.
“We've learned to adapt and to continue living our life and to maintain our sanity, but it's something that every Ukrainian has to live with,” Nelson said.
The Ukrainian Student Association brought the local Ukrainian community together Friday through a vigil for peace in the prolonged Russo-Ukrainian War. The vigil was held at the Chapel of Incarnation, located at 1522 W. University Ave.
The Chapel of Incarnation and the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church — its sister parish located downtown — collaborated with the organizers to provide a space for peaceful prayer in many Ukrainians time of need.
About 20 attendees gathered inside the church to recite and sing prayers in both English and Ukrainian. At the end of the vigil, attendees lit candles and placed them on a wooden cross while the Ukrainian flag was draped over the piano.
Nelson, a 20-year-old UF microbiology junior, said she worried for her home country and for her family back in Ukraine.
The vigil is a way for her to give and receive sympathy with others who have families in Ukraine and are feeling the pain of watching their home country being invaded, Nelson said. Nelson hopes to continue to hold events like the vigil to connect with Ukrainians and comfort the community impacted by the crisis.
This month, and at the vigil, the Ukrainian Student Association will be working with United 24, a centralized venue for collecting funds for Ukraine, in order to donate money for medical aid efforts.
Gregory Orloff, a 59-year-old administrator who works in communications at UF’s graduate program, said he helped organize the vigil. Orloff’s family comes from Belarus, a country north of Ukraine, so Orloff said he’s always felt close to Ukraine and the Ukrainian students at UF who need support.
Orloff wanted to offer up his connections with the church to help them organize a vigil, he said.
“I know that prayer doesn't solve everything,” Orloff said. “But I don't think anything is solved without prayer.”
Orloff likes that prayer and contemplative meditation created a quiet space where people could think and calm down, he said.
Orloff, who’s a part of the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, connected with Jaxon Crus, the 24-year-old ministry associate emulator and musician at the Chapel of Incarnation, to organize the event.
The vigil was inspired by Taizé’s prayer, a type of prayer done during the vigils held in Europe when Ukraine was first invaded, Crus said.
Crus sang the solos during the prayer and arranged the vigil music. The music was arranged to incite the feeling of hope, Crus said.
Keppler Manson, a 22-year-old Santa Fe wildlife ecology junior, said they attended the vigil as a way to show solidarity with the Ukrainian community.
“It’s a very good way to learn about what’s going on,” Manson said. “It’s very eye-opening and emotional too.”
For them, the focus is finding that community and fostering the connections they have, and valuing those connections, Manson said.
Adam Young, the reverend at the Chapel of Incarnation, recited the prayers for vigil.
“We want the world to be a better place, and then to see the failings of leaders and leadership across the globe, it’s disheartening,” Young said. “I think they [Ukrainian students] feel the fragility of their own existence.”
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect Keppler Manson is a Santa Fe student. The Alligator originally reported otherwise.
Contact Anushka at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @anushkadak.
Anushka Dakshit is a fourth-year journalism and women’s studies major and the general reporter on the University desk of The Alligator. She started out as an arts and culture reporter at The Avenue and hopes to pursue arts and culture reporting and print magazine journalism in her career. Along with The Alligator, she is one of the Print Editorial Directors of Rowdy Magazine. In her free time, she likes to listen to old Bollywood music, read and obsess over other writers’ processes whenever she has no idea what she’s doing (which is often).