The Portland Campus was awash in a sea of blue and gold as the University of Southern Maine’s school colors and the Ukrainian flag blended together in a show of solidarity.
The crowd that gathered on Saturday, March 5, in front of the Glickman Library Building included both students and faculty. They carried signs and waved banners to support the Ukrainian people in defense of their country against invasion by Russia.
“I am so happy that people came out,” said Jason White, a senior majoring in Sociology. “People are taking time out of their day to come here and to support this. And it’s not easy to start talking with people. It’s not easy to stand here with a sign on the intersection. So, it makes you feel fantastic.”
White was the driving force behind the demonstration. He was motivated into action by news reports on the death and devastation in Ukraine. White gathered support by posting to social media, sending emails, and speaking up during class. The groundswell he created led the Sociology Department as a whole to issue a statement of support for Ukraine.
Those pleas connected with Brianna Demaso. She is a junior pursuing a dual degree in Business Management and Marketing. She’s also the Student Body Vice President. Demaso was in the middle of the gathering, doing her part to spread awareness to passing drivers, many of whom honked their approval.
“The people of Ukraine, just as we do in America, deserve to have human rights,” Demaso said. “Last week, they were working normal jobs as we do, Monday through Friday, and they do not deserve to have those stripped away from them just because the leader of another country wanted to take [Ukraine] over.”
Civilian casualties have multiplied over the past week as Russian bombs pummeled the cities of Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Mariupol. Desperate to escape, refugees are fleeing by the thousands into neighboring countries, often making the trip on foot. The Ukrainians who remain are fighting back, led by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. His defiance against overwhelming odds has made him a global icon, and he’s using that newfound clout to call on Western nations to come to Ukraine's defense.
The Kremlin claims the invasion is a police action to defend pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine’s northern Donbas region. Russia made similar claims in 2014 when it stormed across Ukraine to seize the Crimean Peninsula. Other former Soviet states that aligned with the West after gaining independence are strengthening their defenses out of concerns that Russia may attack them next.
“I think USM students, faculty, and staff are paying attention to what’s going on in the world,” said Jeannine Diddle Uzzi, Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs. “We have strong values and we want to support those values whether it’s here in Portland or abroad. I’m really proud of the people who came out today to express our values.”