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Ukraine vigil held outside town hall

By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter

After recounting the now famous story of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky turning down an offer to be evacuated from his country with the declaration “I need ammunition, not a ride,” first generation Ukrainian-American Daniel Pavlotsky told the crowd assembled at Town Hall for Needham’s Vigil in Support of the Ukrainian People & World Peace: “Mr. President, my sister and I cannot personally send you ammunition, but we have an army of people ready to send you aid.”

This was the call to action with which Pavlotsky, whose parents were Ukrainian refugees, but who himself went to Hillside, Pollard and Needham High, ended his speech. While many of the vigil’s speakers involved prayers, songs and reflections, Pavlotsky’s speech (which noted that his mother walked past the Kyiv Holocaust Memorial that was bombed) called for direct action to help him support the refugees Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had created. He is collecting items like medical and hygiene products at his house and a local dance studio to send to these displaced Ukrainian refugees.

“Our goal is different. We’re grassroots,” he explained. “We’ve been in contact with small towns not unlike our own that are making an immediate impact on the conflict. They’re helping refugees cross. Providing them with food, shelter, medicine and other goods. We are calling on everyone here to help support those people. If you have the ability to donate goods, such as medical goods, personal hygiene products, feminine hygiene products, toothbrushes, soap, bandages, first aid kits or anything of the sort, please feel free to bring those to our home at 20 Hasenfrus Circle, or Dance Fever Studio in Newton. Or donate to our GoFundMe page.”

While Pavlotsky’s cause garnered most of the many media members in attendance’s attention, with well over a hundred people in attendance, the vigil itself was notable. With many crowd members holding Ukrainian flags or homemade signs, after an acknowledgement from Reverend Daryn Stylianopoulos, Reverend Ryan Marshall tolled a bell 25 times, for the 24 provinces and the Independent Republic of Crimea that make up Ukraine. After a reflection and a performance of “Oseh Shalom”, Kate Graeff, who was born in Odessa and grew up in Ukraine, got up and spoke.

Graeff noted that her grandmothers are still in Ukraine, as, “My grandmothers, both in their eighties, cannot safely reach a border in a pandemic, in a war, and in a crisis where train seats are scarce and petrol fuel is scarce. Nor do they want to leave. 'Mature trees are not easily replanted,' says my grandmother.”

Graeff’s call to action was a digital one. She wanted everyone to be very mindful in understanding the roles we play via likes, memes and clicks in influencing public opinion. Because of this, she wanted everyone to do their best to fight the development of an “us-versus-them” mentality wherever they see it, whether abroad or here in the USA. 

“For the sake of my country, for the sake of my people and for the sake of my children,” she declared, “help to plant seeds of peace in Ukraine, in Russia and here at home.”

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