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Hundreds show Ukrainian support at Parma rally, prayer service

Hundreds of people gathered in Parma to support Ukraine. The Cleveland suburb is home to Ohio's largest population of Ukrainians. [Lisa Ryan / Ideastream Public Media]
Hundreds of people gathered in Parma to support Ukraine. The Cleveland suburb is home to Ohio's largest population of Ukrainians. [Lisa Ryan / Ideastream Public Media]

Ukrainians, U.S. politicians and Cleveland-area residents gathered at St. Vladimir Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Parma on Sunday as part of a prayer service and rally in support of Ukraine.

Russia invaded Ukraine last week, and protests, rallies and vigils have popped up throughout the U.S. On Saturday, supporters of Ukraine gathered at Public Square in downtown Cleveland.

Many people who came to the prayer service were praying for loved ones still in Ukraine, like Marya Winslow. Her father is in Kyiv, and she hasn’t been able to contact him.

"My dad told us that he would try to reach us, but it depends on the situation and what's going on if he was able to do so," she said. "We trust the Lord to keep him safe."

The crowd was standing-room only at St. Vladimir Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral. Hundreds attended the prayer service and rally in Parma. [Lisa Ryan / Ideastream Public Media]

Every pew of the church was filled, and the aisles were packed with people standing to hear the service and the speeches. The crowd spilled out from the church, with dozens of people standing outside in support during the nearly two-hour service, even though they couldn't hear. 

Parma is home to Ohio's largest population of Ukrainians with more than 4,000.

Iryna Mahlay was born and raised in Parma. Her parents came to the U.S. from the Ukraine when they were in their early 20s, fleeing a war and meeting each other in a displaced person's camp. 

"Neither of my parents are alive now, but if they were alive, they would never believe this," Mahlay said. "They would never believe that this is happening again."

Mahlay, like many others at the event, was wearing a traditional Ukrainian shirt. The embroidery and colors represent specific regions of Ukraine. 

Iryna Mahlay with her nephews, Mykola and Kyrylo. [Lisa Ryan / Ideastream Public Media]

Lena, who didn’t want to give her last name, has family in Kyiv. She's scared for them and feels hopeless. 

"They're hiding, they're staying home," she said with tears in her eyes. "When I ask them if they move closer to the border, they got angry at me. They said they're not leaving, they're staying."

Kaylea Davis was at a Saturday rally at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, where she lives with her Ukrainian fiancé Nazar Zhdan. On Sunday, they drove up to Parma to join the rally there.

"It was wonderful. We had people from central Ohio, and then students as well came to talk and speak about their experience and their family that was still at home. I think there was easily a hundred people there," she said. 

Davis and Zhdan plan to go to a rally in Washington, D.C., next weekend. 

Elizabeth Fought (middle left) traveled to Parma from Elyria with her husband, Joseph Fought (far left). Her sister, Sarah Steele (middle right), and their dad, Tom Henderson (far right), also attended the rally. [Lisa Ryan / Ideastream Public Media]

A large number of people joining the rally and prayer service had no connection to Ukraine at all, but wanted to show their support for the country and its people.

"We just want to be able to support the Ukrainian people here in our country and also those overseas, over in Ukraine, who are fighting," said Elizabeth Fought, an Elyrian resident who traveled to the rally with her family.

Julie and Linas Vaitkus pose with Lithuanian flags to show that Lithuanians support Ukrainians. [Lisa Ryan / Ideastream Public Media]

Julie Vaitkus was born in the United States, and her parents came here from Lithuania 75 years ago when it was taken over by the Soviet Union. 

"The same thing is happening again in Ukraine, so we stand with Ukraine, because it's history repeating itself," she said. 

Democratic U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur and Republican Sen. Rob Portman spoke during the service. 

“I’m proud to represent so many Ukrainian Americans in this great state," Portman said. 

He suggested bringing Ukraine into NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

During Rep. Kaptur's speech, she was interrupted by some audience members shouting that they want boots on the ground. She responded to the person by saying she wants to help Ukraine but avoid a nuclear war. 

After the service, the crowd dispersed outside, where they waved flags and cars honked as they drove by. 

Iryna Mahlay said she's happy with how many people came to show their support, and how many people have been showing their support at rallies around the world. 

"It's very heartwarming to see that everyone's concerned," she said. 

lisa.ryan@ideastream.org | 216-916-6158