“Put the seeds in your pocket so at least sunflowers will grow where you lay,” read a sign in the crowd as more than 50 protesters gathered at Marine Park on Saturday afternoon to speak out against the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which began Wednesday evening Alaska time.
The sign echoes the reported words of an elderly woman in Ukraine who tried to give sunflower seeds, the national flower of the country, to Russian soldiers, so that their corpses would nourish the growing plants when they were killed.
“We’re deeply moved by the conflict breaking out. We don’t want to see innocents suffering,” said Lisa Puananimohala’ikalani Denny, one of the organizers. “The people of Ukraine are in peril.”
The organizers of the rally said they were moved after seeing a social media post of a woman in Ukraine begging viewers to get out and protest the war on Thursday evening, said organizer Nick Moe. Protesters wore the yellow and blue of the Ukrainian flag as others carried signs or sunflowers.
“I’m just afraid. I’m scared for people there and doing what I can do to support them,” said Viktor Tkachenko, who moved to Juneau from Ukraine to stay with family a year ago. “It’s what we can do, go out in the streets and show your support.”
More than 200,000 Russian troops massed along the border of Ukraine, attacking from all directions. Videos of air and artillery attacks, including videos of rockets striking residential buildings and aircraft being downed, have spread rapidly across social media.
“My home city was attacked seven times by bombs,” Tkachenko said. “It’s so scary. My friends are sending messages every hour.”
Draped in the Ukrainian flag, Tkachenko was holding a sign that read “NATO, shelter our sky — we’ll do the rest,” as he advocated for help securing Ukrainian airspace against Russian aviation assets dropping bombs and airborne forces across the country.
“We just heard the Alaska Airlines jet go by and we didn’t flinch,” said Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, as he spoke out passionately against the war. “Too many people have had to hide in fear from the sound of aircraft for the last three days.”
Kiehl railed against Russian President Vladmir Putin’s methods as he spoke against the war.
“We as Alaskans and Americans have to stand up,” Kiehl said to the crowd. “No country should change its borders by lies and tanks and bombs and force.”
Other state legislators, including Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich, D-Anchorage, attended the rally.
“The fact that you’re here on such short notice shows that you care about the lives of people who are pawns in the game of oligarchs who want to hold on to their wealth and power,” Begich said.
While he was concerned for them, Tkachenko said, he knows that the people of Ukraine would not go quietly.
“They are so angry,” Tkachenko said. “They are ready to fight.”