Speech by Ruslana Westerlund, 2-24-23
Good morning. My name is Ruslana Westerlund and I am one of the organizers of this event. Thank you everyone for coming. This event is to commemorate the year of the resilience of the Ukrainian people, honor those who gave their lives for our freedom, and to thank you all for your ongoing support. We will hear several speeches from the Ukrainian community, some of who are refugees of war, as well as UW professors. We will also hear from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church here in town, Father Gregory as well as pastor Charles from Covenant Presbyterian church. We will have a very special young Ukrainian performer. We will conclude with a singing of the Ukrainian anthem and a moment of silence.
Thank you everyone for coming to our rally. Exactly a year ago some of us were standing here, on these steps, on the second day of this genocidal war. We didn’t know what will happen. We didn’t know how long we’ll stand. We didn’t know if we will still exist as a nation. A year ago many Madisonians came to join us and they continue to stand with us. Thank you Americans, Thank you Madison for showing up again, for standing with us the whole year, day after day. Thank you for donating, for contacting your representatives, thank you for checking on Ukrainians with “How can we help? What can we do? Or a simple “How are you holding up?”
The war in Ukraine has been going on for 9 years and yesterday, on February 24th 2023 was 1 year since the beginning of the full-scale invasion. Over the course of the year the aggressor has been systematically destroying Ukraine and committing terrible war crimes. Despite this, Ukrainians continuously defend their homeland and the world from the aggression of the terrorist country. We have been fighting and defending the whole world with dignity, together with you. You – who have been reinforcing our common victory since the first day. Ukrainians are very grateful for all support because we sincerely believe that only together can we overcome this evil.
Today we commemorate this year – 365 days of defending freedom.
365 days of resilience.
365 days of determination.
365 days of courage.
365 days of perseverance.
365 days of a relentless desire to live.
365 days of being unstoppable.
365 days of being brave, of being brave Ukraine.
The world gave us three days. But the world measured our might in military equipment. We measure our strength in how much we love freedom. Mathematically or numerically, we were supposed to be defeated because we had a smaller army, however, on the scale of how much we value freedom, we are invincible. That love of freedom, the desire to exist as free Ukrainians is how we are winning this war with a help of a few tanks, of course.
We are asking for military support not because we are militant people. We don’t want this war. I repeat again. WE DON’T WANT THIS WAR. We are a peaceful people who have been invaded at dawn when our babies were still sleeping. We are trying to protect our homes. We are trying to have a future as a people. We have been aggressed against. We have been genocided against. Millions of people have lost their homes. Children have lost their childhood. They continue to live with high levels of stress and trauma. Women and children have been raped and tortured. Family units have been fractured. Children have not seen their fathers for 365 days and counting.
We are asking for military support because if we don’t, we won’t exist as a people. The Russian aggressor is targeting civilian infrastructure, bombing hospitals, preschools, universities, schools, and apartment complexes. One of my dear friends lost her mother-in-law and her husband in one day in the January 14th Dnipro attack. When the time came to bury them, they had to use a DNA test to identify him because there was nothing left of him. How do you bury your loved ones identified through a DNA test?? That’s why we are asking for continued support because more people will die, and more children’s lives will be lost. Putin is not going to stop. And we are not going to roll over. We are not going to give up our land. It’s our land! We live there!!! Did Putin stop after he took Crimea? No, he just waited a little and rolled in with his tanks and missiles.
A few words about the posters that people are holding on the black background. Please hold them so people can see them. These posters come from a series of 365 photo posters about tragic events that have happened each day since the beginning of the full-scale invasion. We chose to use 12 posters, one poster per month to represent the full year of the events. “They show Ukrainian people’s struggles for freedom for the sake of the whole world. Ukrainians are offering to remember this year together, thank the world for helping to get through it, and call on the world to defend our freedom by joint forces to achieve victory” (Alexander Krapivkin).
“During this year Ukraine has shown the whole world its capability and strive for freedom and independence, its desire to build and defend democracy. The world has seen both our authentic culture and our genuine bravery. And the free and democracy-loving world is brave like Ukraine” (Alexander Krapivkin).
If I were to describe this year in one word: it would be the word courage.
Courage to stand up to a country 30 times larger than us.
Courage to ask for ammunition and not a ride.
Courage to tell the russian ship to go far far far away.
Courage to absorb evil, torture, and rape so that Kyiv would not fall.
Courage to be separated from your loved ones.
Сourage to stay.
Courage to leave.
Courage to stop tanks by blocking streets with their bodies.
Courage to hitch a russian tank to the tractor.
Courage to run to the shelter. Courage to shelter children with your bodies.
Courage to continue educating the future despite air rades, shelling, and no electricity.
Courage to go to work, to create, and to have babies.
Courage to dream of a future without war.
Courage to believe in victory despite all odds.
The victory of Ukraine will be the victory of every nation that values freedom and democracy.
Ми з тобою, Україно!