GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — On this first anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, dozens of people gathered in Downtown Grand Rapids to honor and remember those whose lives were lost and those whose lives changed forever.
At the candlelight vigil, it was announced that in the City of Grand Rapids, Feb. 24 is now a Day of Solidarity with Ukraine.
Many people at the event reflected on the pain caused by the Russian invasion, including Olesia Chrona, a refugee from Ukraine.
"Pretty much every Ukrainian has somebody they are mourning. There is no father, no brother, somebody they lost. There's missing children. There's missing family members," she says, through Interpreter Iryna Wells.
Chorna arrived in Grand Rapids from Irpin, Ukraine this past October, after a missile bombed her family's home. Memories of the war still stick with her.
"The worst is this noise, constant noise, constant banging," she says. "You understand that those could be helicopters. You understand those could be military planes, but you don't know what will hit, and where, and whether you will survive or not. Especially watching all those poor, suffering, crying children, not knowing if you will survive an hour or a day after."
Wells also fled from the war herself, arriving in the U.S. almost one year ago.
"My family had to run, we had to leave our home," she says. "Everything was taken away from me: my happy life, my children's happy life."
During the event, multiple people spoke on the war's impact in their own lives and on the community. Everyone shared a prayer and a moment of silence.
"I have lost some family members, just last week," Wells says. "I lost friends, due to the war. This moment of silence and the prayer, everything was very important to me."
The event concluded with a walk from the Gillett Bridge into downtown, with people waving their flags and carrying their signs along the way.
"This has been tough, not only for me, but for every Ukrainian that I know," Anna Kovalenko, event organizer, says.
She grew up in Ukraine, and she moved to the U.S. almost ten years ago. When the war started, she went there to evacuate her mom.
"And then in October, she went back to Ukraine to her home city. She's safe for now. But of course, every day, we are worried," Kovalenko says. "My husband's family is in Ukraine. His mother actually also went to Ukraine to take care of her mother. And we are worried constantly of what is going on."
She's encouraging everyone to help however they can, through humanitarian aid and contacting their representatives.
"If we support Ukraine, if we push and press our governments to help Ukraine to win this war, then we then we ultimately will win it too, because Ukraine is fighting for the whole world," Kovalenko says.
All three women hope to see an end to this war soon to save lives and send refugees home safely.
"I'm very grateful to every American for all the support that they have given us Ukrainians," Well says.
"All I want is peace. I want this peace to finally be restored in Ukraine," Chorna says.
At the vigil, organizers say the city is working to establish a friendship city partnership with a Ukrainian city.