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Politicians Call for Greater Sanctions, Humanitarian Aid at Newton Rally for Ukraine

Congressman Jake Auchincloss said the United States should consider threatening sanctions against China at a Newton rally for Ukraine on Friday—the same day U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told CNBC such actions would not be appropriate.

Auchincloss said China has implicitly supported Russia in its invasion of Ukraine. 

“China needs to know that they cannot sit on the sidelines of history,” said Auchincloss, who represents Massachusetts’s 4th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. “They will be judged, and they must stand on the right side.”

Auchincloss joined Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller, other Massachusetts politicians, and over 100 residents in calling for more efforts at home and abroad to support refugees and bring an end to the conflict. 

Both Auchincloss and Fuller said they hoped the U.S. would accept more Ukrainian refugees following President Joe Biden’s administration’s announcement on Thursday to accept up to 100,000 refugees.

“Our country is ready to take in 100,000 refugees from this war,” Fuller said. “I hope we can do better. I actually think we must do better.”

State-level politicians at the rally said the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has a role to play in the conflict as well. 

Cynthia Stone Creem, a state senator representing the 1st Middlesex and Norfolk district, which includes Newton, said Massachusetts is terminating all of its contracts with Russian state-owned businesses. The State House also approved $10 million in mid-year spending to assist Ukrainian resettlement this month, according to WBUR.  

Auchincloss co-sponsored the “Yachts for Ukraine Act” on March 18. The bill proposes using liquidated, sanctioned assets of Russian oligarchs and senior officials to provide humanitarian aid in Ukraine. At the rally, he also said that he is exploring how the U.S. can target Russian forces with electronic warfare.

“I’m working with the administration and my colleagues in Congress to chart a path forward for how we can tighten the sanctions on Russia, how we can provision more lethal and non-lethal aid to Ukraine, and how we can target electronic warfare against Russian forces in Ukraine so that they are undermined and impaired at every turn,” Auchincloss said.

Auchincloss spoke at the rally just under two weeks after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy implored the U.S. Congress to do more for his country.

“This hero closed powerfully in English,” Auchincloss said about Zelenskyy’s March 15 address. “He said to us directly, said ‘Be a leader. Be the leader of the world. Be a leader for peace.’ How do we lead for peace?”

For Martina Jackson, one of the protest’s organizers and a member of the Newtonville Area Council, the war in Ukraine is personal.

“My father was born in Ukraine,” she said. “I think that the travesty is so overwhelming that … it really goes right to the heart of war crimes and crimes against innocent people. And I think we all have to be out here making it clear how much we disapprove—how much we are revolted by it.”

The conflict was personal for many others in the crowd, too. Julia Zis, a participant who found out about the rally through Instagram, immigrated to the U.S. from Ukraine when she was nine. 

“I’m from a town … which hasn’t really been impacted highly as of yet,” Zis said. “But [for] the friends I do talk to, that I have still there, sirens just go off every single day, and it’s something that they’re just used to, which is crazy.”

Viera Proulx, another Newton resident, immigrated to the U.S. from Czechoslovakia after the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968.

“It’s very close to my heart, and I’m trying to not think about it, because if I do, it hurts too much,” Proulx said with tears in her eyes.

Jackson said she thought of the idea for the rally on Monday. She said the March 25 date of the protest coincides well with Biden’s trip to eastern Europe. 

Olga Kissin, a Newton resident who learned about the protest through Fuller’s newsletter, said she felt called to attend the protest because the conflict in Ukraine affects everyone.

“I think it’s important to understand that everyone’s lives are impacted—that it’s not somebody else’s world,” Kissin said. “The whole free world needs to step up.”

At the rally’s 4:30 p.m. gathering time, only a few residents and a sound crew populated the Newton Centre Green at the corner of Centre and Beacon Streets. But in the next half hour, droves of attendees filled the greenspace.

Rally-goers positioned themselves at the intersection, some wielding anti-war signs and almost all sporting blue and yellow colors representing the Ukrainian flag. Passing cars honked in support as the participants waved their flags. 

The crowd included Eastern European immigrants, a plethora of children waving miniature Ukrainian flags, and adults wrapped in larger versions of the flag. 

Fuller was the first to speak, starting around 5 p.m. She condemned the Russian government while voicing her support to Ukrainians everywhere. 

“Today as we stand for Ukraine, we also stand to defend our values,” Fuller said. “We abhor the evil of Putin and his regime. We rail against the reckless violence, the selfish land grabs. We despise the motives of these tyrants and kleptocrats. And we know what is at stake goes beyond the borders of Ukraine. A denial of human rights and dignity anywhere is a threat to people everywhere.”

Ruth Balser, a state representative of the 12th Middlesex district and a speaker at the rally, said she is grateful that Ukrainian refugees have countries to go to.

“I think about when the Jews of Europe needed refuge, the countries of the world closed their doors,” Balser said. “And I am so glad that that’s not happening now.”

Peter Koutoujian, the Middlesex County sheriff, also spoke at the rally. He talked about his family’s story.

Koutoujian’s grandparents fled the Armenian Genocide, and his grandmother gave birth to three sons and one daughter, he said. All the sons served in the military. With the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, Koutoujian said he sees his grandparents’ experiences in the plight of Ukrainians fighting against Russia. 

“We all think of our ancestors, and together we say we stand for them,” Koutoujian said. “We stand for Ukraine, we stand for democracy, and we must be a voice against all tyrants present and future who try to follow this very blueprint as we know they will.”

The rally closed with the singing of the Ukrainian national anthem. A Ukrainian immigrant sang as elected officials stood behind her and young Newton residents stood in front of her. 

Auchincloss said people’s attitudes across the country are unified against the war effort. He encouraged local organizing like Friday’s rally.

“President Zelenskyy himself called for these rallies to commemorate the one-month anniversary of this unjust, unprovoked aggression, and what it demonstrates is the solidarity of the free world with the Ukrainian cause,” he told The Heights.

After the rally, Fuller told The Heights that local efforts like Friday’s protest are crucial to fundraising efforts to help Ukrainians displaced by the conflict, as well as to supporting immigrants locally. 

“We bring people together,” she said. “We let them know good organizations to donate to, and we support both our Ukrainian and our Russian neighbors who live here.”

Speakers at the rally encouraged participants to support funds like the Sunflower of Peace, an organization committed to helping those affected by the invasion, according to the organization’s website

Giving money to local organizations is just one way Newton residents can help the cause, according to Richard Lipof, Newton City Council’s vice president. 

“I think there’s a sense of helplessness from most people when they see what’s going on over there,” Lipof, who attended the rally, said to The Heights. “It’s far away—how do we help? I can give money. You know, I can show my support in many different ways. This is just one way we can show support is to come together as a community.”

Bill Humphrey, councilor of Ward 5, said he hoped the conflict can be resolved through peaceful solutions.

“I do wish that we had done more rallies for the other countries as well, but this is certainly an unprovoked act of aggression,” Humphrey said. “And I hope that a peaceful and diplomatic solution happens soon to stop the fighting and save lives.”

Jackson said she was happy to see a large attendance at the protest. She said local activism and rallies cannot stop now. 

“What we’ve been saying is … ‘Glory to Ukraine,’” she said. “That’s the message, but also, whatever is happening in Ukraine is really happening to all of us.”

At the rally, Auchincloss said the public must support the Ukrainian effort even after the war in the country might subside.

“But we must continue to show up for as long as this crisis demands,” Auchincloss said. “It’s in the headlines right now. It’s salient right now. It is in our beating hearts right now. But we know sadly that this is going to be with us for a long time to come. The violence will end. Ukraine will prevail, but they will then need to rebuild, and we need to be there for them as they rebuild as well.”

Images by Victor Stefanescu / Heights Editor

March 27, 2022