‘Nobody wants to help us’: Ukrainians, supporters rally in Atlanta

People show their support for Ukraine during a rally near the CNN center Saturday, February 26, 2022. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

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People show their support for Ukraine during a rally near the CNN center Saturday, February 26, 2022. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Distraught, hands shaking, Olena Muchak pulls out her cellphone.

She scrolls through the messages, shows a reporter scenes from her hometown: A photo of the lot where, until very recently, a loved one’s home once stood. A video of gunfire and explosions and screams. People huddled in bunkers.

There is no gas and no electricity in Ivankiv, the small Ukrainian town near Chernobyl where Muchak grew up. She says a friend was shot and killed while driving down the street. It’s been too long since she’s heard from her parents.

“She’s crying, she can’t control her emotions,” a new friend says, translating. “She’s praying.”

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Muchak, a 37-year-old who left Ukraine for Sugar Hill in Gwinnett County about two years ago, joined hundreds of others at a Saturday afternoon rally outside Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park. Clad in yellow and blue, waving flags and holding handmade signs, singing the national anthem of their motherland, they asked the world to pay attention — and to do more, as the Russian military’s unprovoked invasion continued for a third straight day.

Combined ShapeCaption
People show their support for Ukraine during a rally near the CNN Center on Saturday, February 26, 2022. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

People show their support for Ukraine during a rally near the CNN Center on Saturday, February 26, 2022.  STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Combined ShapeCaption
People show their support for Ukraine during a rally near the CNN Center on Saturday, February 26, 2022. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

“Putin! Terrorist!” they chanted about the Russian leader.

“U-S-A, support Ukraine!” they pled.

“I want the whole world to look again at the situation in Ukraine,” said Mila Kotlyar, a 42-year-old Ukrainian who has lived in the Atlanta suburbs for nearly two decades. “They need to know that every second they waste on making decisive decisions, people die in Ukraine.”

Ukraine’s health minister reported Saturday that 198 people, including three children, had been killed since Thursday, when Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the start of the largest ground offensive in Europe since World War II. More than 1,000 others had been wounded.

It was unclear if those figures include both civilian and military casualties.

Tens of thousands of Ukrainian citizens, meanwhile, had already fled to nearby countries. In places like the capital of Kyiv, everyday residents were taking up arms alongside the military.

At the emotional rally in Atlanta, Georgians of Ukrainian descent shared their pride, their fears, their sorrows — and their frustration.

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People show their support for Ukraine during a rally outside Centennial Olympic Park on Saturday, February 26, 2022. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

People show their support for Ukraine during a rally outside Centennial Olympic Park on Saturday, February 26, 2022.  STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Combined ShapeCaption
People show their support for Ukraine during a rally outside Centennial Olympic Park on Saturday, February 26, 2022. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Some asked for the U.S., NATO, Europe, anybody to send weapons, technology and air support to Ukraine. Some said stronger sanctions, or a complete trade embargo, or cutting Russia off from SWIFT, the international banking system, was necessary. Others asked for allies to put troops on the ground.

“I can’t sleep, I can’t work, I can’t function,” said Rosana Berenda, 48, teary-eyed as she held a Ukrainian flag. “Nobody wants to help us.”

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Victoria Tsymbal shows her support along with others for Ukraine during a rally outside Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta on Saturday, February 26, 2022. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Victoria Tsymbal shows her support along with others for Ukraine during a rally outside Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta on Saturday, February 26, 2022.  STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Combined ShapeCaption
Victoria Tsymbal shows her support along with others for Ukraine during a rally outside Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta on Saturday, February 26, 2022. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

As the daytime rally dispersed in Atlanta, night was beginning to fall in Ukraine. People in Kyiv and across the country were readying for another night under curfew and under cover, as their loved ones abroad hoped and prayed and waited.

Combined ShapeCaption
People show their support for Ukraine during a rally outside Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta on Saturday, February 26, 2022. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

People show their support for Ukraine during a rally outside Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta on Saturday, February 26, 2022.  STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Combined ShapeCaption
People show their support for Ukraine during a rally outside Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta on Saturday, February 26, 2022. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Ivan Kravchenko, an American citizen born and raised in Ukraine, drove down from Tennessee to join the event in Atlanta.

“I don’t want to be just screaming in the street,” he said. “I want real help.”

— Information from the Associated Press was used in this article.


Ukrainians in the U.S. and Georgia

Population estimates for people of Ukrainian descent from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (data released in 2020):

  • 1,009,119 in the U.S.
  • 13,122 in Georgia
  • 9,917 in the Atlanta metro area

Georgia cities with the highest number of people of Ukrainian ancestry

  • Atlanta: 804
  • Alpharetta: 587
  • Johns Creek: 528
  • Marietta: 322
  • Roswell: 307