Corvallis gathers again in support of Ukraine, sister city residents provide updates

Albany, Ore. resident John Kolck proudly displays his sign in support of peace in Ukraine at the Benton County Courthouse on March 5. Kolck mentioned that while he was at the rally, his daughter is abroad in Berlin helping Ukrainian refugees.

Zeva Rosenbaum, News Contributor

Dozens of Corvallis, Ore. residents gathered in front of the Benton County Courthouse to support Uzhhorod, Ukraine for a second time at noon on March 5. 

The gathering took place one week after an initial rally occurred on Feb. 26 and a little over a week after Russia launched a full-scale invasion into Ukraine on Feb. 24. 

Alongside the Corvallis Sister Cities Association, Ukrainian-American Misha Zyryanov and his wife Hannah Bittner’s family organized the rally, where at least 60 people showed up, to gather further donations and support for Ukraine. Zyryanov will be flying to Berlin, Germany on March 9 before driving to Ukraine to hand-deliver suitcases full of medical supplies, food, money and other donations to the doctors at humanitarian aid centers in Uzhhorod, where his family and friends still live. 

Zyryanov gave a short but emotional speech at the gathering. He talked about his brother-in-law fighting on the front lines in Ukraine, who asked that his family be taken care of because he “won’t surrender alive.” Zyryanov asked for further help via donations of supplies and money. 

“I have an opportunity, and, with your help, resources to deliver some help,” Zyryanov said. “Those [bulletproof] vests won’t be enough to bring back every soldier, those tourniquets won’t stop all the blood.”

Zyryanov went on to say how difficult it is to get supplies from within Ukraine at the moment and how thankful he is for everyone and all their help so far. 

#StandWithUkraine signs were sold to help raise funds at the event, and the crowd was filled with yellow and blue—the colors of the Ukrainian flag—as well as many sunflowers, which is the national flower of Ukraine as well as a recent symbol of resistance thanks to the viral video of an elderly Ukrainian woman handing a Russian soldier sunflower seeds so “sunflowers grow when they die.”

Alice Rampton, CSCA board member and co-chair of the Take One Ukrainian Child’s Hand project, said they’ve raised over $24,000 over the past few days toward a goal of $100,000. They’re working to get their GoFundMe page up and running, Rampton said. 

Until the GoFundMe is approved, donations can also be made through the local Citizens Circle Bank at 978 NW Circle Blvd. in Corvallis, or through checks made out to the Uzhhorod Refugee Fund—not the CSCA, Rampton specified. 

The rally coincided with another update via a TOUCH newsletter from Uzhhorod TOUCH director Vasyl Chubar. He said Uzhhorod and western Ukraine are still calm, but expressed concern that people outside the country may quickly lose interest in the war among everyday distractions like jobs, holiday plans and daily routines.

“Believe me, it all becomes so insignificant the moment troops invade your country, missiles hit your land, soldiers fight on the front line, civilians hide in bunkers, displaced people sleep on the floor in gyms, refugees forced to look for better lives in foreign countries,” Chubar said. 

Chubar said it may look like a Netflix show on TV, but the war is very real. He said despite the calm and relative safety of Uzhhorod and the Transcarpathian region, it means little with so much unrest across the country.

“Imagine if you were living in Oregon, but your friends or family are hiding in a bunker in Texas,” said Chubar. “Or your nation’s capital is being surrounded by soldiers, tanks and missiles from an invading country. What would you do? How would you feel?”

Many major cities like Kherson, Kharkiv, Sumy and Chernihiv are facing a humanitarian crisis where the population has little to no access to necessities like medication, food and utilities, and temperatures have been dropping below freezing, according to Chubar. 

Transcarpathia and Uzhhorod have become a hub for humanitarian aid with over 200,000 refugees passing through the area before crossing the border to Slovakia, Romania and Hungary, Chubar said. 

“60,000 displaced people have been accommodated in the region,” Chubar said. “Many can afford renting a place but there are those who have to seek shelter in centers arranged in four public schools, three kindergartens, university dormitories, the youth center and other locations. But our public utilities’ limited capacity is feeling the stress of many new residents.”

Upwards of 2,000-2,500 people stay a night before moving on, though some stay longer, and the volunteer movement is “huge and well arranged,” according to Chubar. He said supplies like food, gear, clothing and more are donated by locals and from abroad. 

“We need these items,” Chubar said. “Everything is being sorted and either delivered to the soldiers on the frontline, people on occupied territories, citizens of the destroyed cities or distributed among the displaced people. More and more trains keep arriving in Uzhhorod daily.”  

Chubar said the situation could turn into a world war with global consequences very easily and asked that people don’t allow the support for Ukraine to disappear.

 “I’m not sure how many people I can reach or how much impact we all can make,” Chubar said. “We beg you to help us close the air space with no-flight zone over Ukraine.”

Katherine Bizilya, who was once the first Uzhhorod-based CSCA president, reached out as well, and expressed her disbelief at how something like this can take place in the 21st century. She said there’s no way to explain such violence or cruelty, and referred to President of Russia Vladimir Putin as a psychopath, refusing to capitalize his name. She said she is proud of her country and the citizens’ army, and she still believes Ukraine will win the war.

“My heart aches,” Bizilya said. “I am grief stricken [at] how these people feel leaving their beautiful city and their homes. They were so proud of all the renovations and constructions, fantastic parks and historic buildings which were done in Kharkiv recently. Now it is all under ruins bombed and damaged. How could these b- – – – – – s do [this] to innocent people? How could they kill children and women?”

Bizilya described crying with the refugees they’re currently hosting, who haven’t been able to smile since the beginning of the war on Feb. 24. She said her granddaughter, Kate, was able to make them smile by talking about her cats.

“It is midnight here, but I can’t sleep,” Bizilya said. “My son and his family hosted 11 people, and [I hosted] three people and a dog, Nicky, a puppy. A family with a wife and a husband and their mother stay with me. Their two daughters and their friends, a university professor of English with his wife, are at my son’s apartment.”

Rampton said they want to tell Ukraine “we love them” and having the connection to Uzhhorod as a sister city makes the situation feel all that much more real. She said the TOUCH project and CSCA will not end just because of the Russian invasion, and there will be many opportunities to help Uzhhorod in the future. 

“There will be vulnerable children needing the support of good people like you no matter what happens,” Rampton said. “There will be connections and exchanges to make between the two sister cities. There will be needs to be met. It will continue. Thanks for your support over the last two decades. We plan to return.”