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Ukrainians at downtown Spokane gathering express deep worry for loved ones in Eastern Europe

UPDATED: Sat., March 5, 2022

People show support for Ukraine Saturday afternoon near the Abraham Lincoln statue in downtown Spokane. Drivers echoed that support with nearly continuous honking as they passed by.  (Garrett Cabeza / The Spokesman-Review)
People show support for Ukraine Saturday afternoon near the Abraham Lincoln statue in downtown Spokane. Drivers echoed that support with nearly continuous honking as they passed by. (Garrett Cabeza / The Spokesman-Review)

For at least the second straight Saturday, a crowd of people flew blue and yellow Ukrainian flags and held signs near the Abraham Lincoln statue in downtown Spokane as drivers – many honking in support of Ukraine – passed by.

On the other side of the Monroe Street bridge, Cedar Coffee owner Igor York, of Ukraine, donated coffee sale proceeds and donations Saturday to his home country. The business was packed around 3:30 p.m., just 30 minutes before closing. KHQ reported Cedar Coffee raised more than $20,000 from coffee sales and donations Saturday.

Many of those who stood near the Lincoln statue appeared to either be from Ukraine or had ties to the Eastern European country that has been under attack from its Russian neighbor for some 10 days.

Olga Mazhan, who held a sign that read “Stand with Ukraine,” said she was born in Ukraine and her parents and other family members are still in the country.

“I’m very, very worried,” Mazhan said. “I cannot sleep. I sleep two, three hours a night.”

Mazhan said her parents seek protection in a bomb shelter when bombs strike nearby.

She said she is constantly watching the news for updates, except when she is teaching at Venture High School in Coeur d’Alene.

Mazhan said she is happy the U.S. imposed some sanctions on Russia, but she would like to see it protect the skies above Ukraine to prevent Russia’s bombardment of buildings where innocent people are hiding.

“Right now, Ukraine is fighting for the whole world, and we all need to help them as much as we can and make sure less people die there,” Mazhan said.

Nelly Grezhdieru said she also was born in Ukraine but lives in Spokane now. She said she is extremely concerned for her family members in Ukraine, some of whom are still in Kyiv, the nation’s capital and a primary target of Russian forces.

Grezhdieru said one of her uncles, a director of an orphanage in Ukraine, helped evacuate people from Kyiv to nearby Romania and Moldova. She said another uncle was supposed to fly to the U.S. Feb. 25, but Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion halted those plans.

Grezhdieru said the support from the honking drivers and from the group standing near the Monroe Street bridge boosted morale.

“I just feel like the entire week, all we hear is just negativity and sad news and stuff coming from Ukraine, and I feel like this is uplifting when you see people support us,” she said.

Leon Burda, a Mead High School student who held a “Honk for Ukraine” sign, said his entire family is from Ukraine and some family members and friends are still there.

“I want to support my country,” Burda said of joining the small downtown crowd Saturday. “I want to support my people. I want to show my pride in my country.”

He said he’s a little stressed, but he has faith in the Ukrainian government. He said he expects the conflict to be over in two or three months.

“I’m not really too worried,” he said. “I think it’ll be all OK.”

Burda said he has loved ones in Russia as well and is sympathetic to people in both countries.

“There’s so many people that are hurting in Russia right now,” said Burda, adding that many Russian citizens stand against the invasion.

Burda said he believes people will continue to show support near the Lincoln statue each Saturday. He said he will.

“I hope it’ll be over soon, and it’s just sad to see how things are going,” Burda said.

But Grezhdieru said she hopes Russia halts its attack and the gathering isn’t necessary next Saturday.

“That’s the hope,” she said, “but if we have to, then we’ll be here.”

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