Hundreds of people gathered Thursday at San Francisco’s City Hall to protest the Russian bombing and invasion of Ukraine in a war that is threatening to destabilize the global economy and draw other nations into the fight.
Russian aggression has been building for weeks as thousands of soldiers began to encroach on Ukraine's borders on multiple fronts. Bombings that began late Wednesday San Francisco-time gave way to a full military occupation by the morning. Since the siege began, Ukrainians in the city and across the Bay Area have been posting on social media, many asking for prayers and words of support, while also expressing hopelessness as their country is attacked on all sides.
At City Hall on Thursday, hundreds of protesters gathered together, hugging, crying and singing the Ukrainian national anthem. Many held Ukrainian flags and signs saying, “Protect Ukraine,” “Biden help,” and “stop Russian aggression.”
Olga Ramsey, who was born and raised in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, was among the protesters. She said she tried to get her parents to come to the United States weeks ago when the conflict began to escalate. Now, she’s scared for her friends and loved ones who woke up to bombs.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” Ramsey said.
“We have to win—we just have to,” Wiener said in a speech at Thursday’s protest.
Also coming out in opposition to the war was Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who is Ukrainian-Jewish on both sides of her family—her father emigrated from Palestine in his 20s after his family escaped the Bolsheviks, and her mother was third-generation born in Milwaukee. Ronen said she’s never been to Ukraine and doesn’t feel especially connected to the culture or community, but today’s news hit close to home.
“In many ways, I’m a disconnected bystander that’s just watching in horror like anyone else,” Ronen said. “On the other hand, I know that my entire origin story comes from that place and those people that are in harm’s way right now. Not only could they lose their lives, but they could lose their country—and it’s maddening.”
Andrii and Svitlana, who emigrated from Ukraine eight years ago, were shopping with their son Thursday at New World Market on Geary Boulevard just as President Biden went on television to address the nation on the conflict. The couple’s parents live in Melitopol in the southeastern part of the country. Pointing to a map, Andrii, who asked that his family’s last name not be used, said his family fled the country to the United States, where their son was born, because of this same conflict. He’s been following the situation and grew increasingly frustrated and worried in the weeks leading up to today’s invasion.
“Those are Russian troops,” Andrii said, holding up a video on his phone. “We know this street. This is where we lived.”
CNN reported explosions at Melitopol Air Base on Thursday.
So far, the couple’s parents have had continued internet and phone service, and civilians have not been targeted in their region, Andrii said. He said people they know back home are sheltering in subways and stuck in massive traffic jams. And with Russian troops closing in from nearly all sides, relocating within the country doesn’t make sense for the family, either. Svitlana’s father reported taking two hours just to get to the gas station.
“We are deeply frustrated because it’s a life-threatening situation for both our parents,” Andrii said. “There is not much we can do right now.”
Alexei, who was working the front counter at the market and also asked that his last name not be used, said like all Ukrainians he feels scared. He’s a gay immigrant who came to San Francisco a year ago to flee persecution in Eastern Europe. He said most Ukrainians speak Russian and Ukrainian, or even just Russian, and there is widespread appreciation for Russian culture and the country’s people—except for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“It’s only Putin, it’s not people,” Alexei said. “Ukrainian people are not fighting Russian culture.”
Afraid for his friends in Kyiv and his mother and sister, who live in Ukrainian cities Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, Alexei was been glued to the news Thursday for any new information. But he said his loved ones haven’t considered leaving the country.
“She doesn’t want to move,” Alexei said of his mother. “She wants to live in peace.”