With patriotic songs and tearful testimonies, hundreds gathered on Sunday in a banquet hall at the Ukrainian Cultural Center in Warren.
Rally organizer Mykola Murskyj heads the Ukrainian-American Crisis Response Committee of Michigan, a newly formed coalition of groups – including credit unions, Ukrainian elementary schools and veteran’s organizations – who fear for those in their native homeland, as heavy shelling continues in Ukraine’s east and the Kremlin considered recognizing the independence of the separatist regions in eastern Ukraine.
“We’re collecting humanitarian aid, we have accounts open where people can donate funds to make sure that if the worst should happen in Ukraine that we are helping to alleviate the suffering.” —Mykola Murskyj, Ukrainian-American Crisis Response Committee of Michigan
Pro-Ukrainian groups held rallies across the U.S. over the weekend. Those in states with large Ukrainian populations – like Michigan – continue calling for peace while preparing for a potential Russian invasion.
With an estimated 150,000 Russian troops massed on three sides of Ukraine, the U.S. has warned that Moscow has already decided to invade. Still, the American and Russian presidents tentatively agreed to a possible meeting in a last-ditch effort to avoid war.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said he would decide later Monday whether to recognize the independence of separatist regions in eastern Ukraine, a move that would ratchet up tensions with the West amid fears that Moscow could launch an invasion of Ukraine imminently.
“We’re collecting humanitarian aid, we have accounts open where people can donate funds to make sure that if the worst should happen in Ukraine that we are helping to alleviate the suffering,” says Murskyj.
He says they’re also ready for a possible influx of refugees, though he adds some they know in Ukraine are too old to travel far.
Stevens: U.S. could target Russia with sanctions or press U.N. to deploy troops
It’s a war that began in 2014 after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine. The fighting has claimed at least 14,000 lives but had been largely quiet for a while.
Some Metro Detroit lawmakers say the U.S. has the means to help stop Russia from potentially invading Ukraine.
Several elected officials spoke at the rally on Sunday, including U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Waterford Township).
She says the U.S. could target Russia with sanctions or press to deploy United Nations peacekeeping troops – depending on what, if any, military action occurs in Ukraine. “What that invasion looks like and what that leads to and how long it lasts. Are we in another situation like 2014 … are we in a complete takeover and perpetuated genocide? We have to avoid that and we have to use our strength.”
Stevens says the threat of an invasion also damages efforts to free Michigan native Paul Whelan from a Russian prison.
Whelan was convicted of espionage, but U.S. officials say Russia never produced any concrete evidence against him and have pressed for his release.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.