March 1, 2023

Tiger Park Vigil and Chapel Remembrance Commemorate Anniversary of Ukraine War

By Donald Gilpin

On Friday, February 24, one year after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, gatherings in Ukraine and around the world took note of the somber anniversary. In Princeton a vigil and rally for a “diplomatic surge,” led by the Coalition for Peace Action (CFPA), took place in Tiger Park at Palmer Square in the afternoon, and an evening event in the University Chapel, led by Ukrainian students, commemorated “365 Days of War” with student speeches and music.

“It was somber and there was a feeling of reflection, but also hope,” said Princeton University first-year student Sofiia Shapovalova, one of the organizers of the University Chapel event. “The students finished their speeches by saying ‘Slava Ukraini,’ which means ‘Glory to Ukraine,’ and the audience would respond with ‘Heroyam Slava,’ which means ‘Glory to the heroes.’ That was very beautiful.”

Shapovalova, who was born in Ukraine, immigrated to the United States in 2008 with her parents, but the rest of her family is still in Ukraine. She reflected on the past year in a speech at the chapel event and also in an article published last week in the Daily Princetonian.

“Every day, the people of Ukraine exist in a state of unimaginable horror,” she wrote. “They exist, carrying on with their work and studies, taking care of their loved ones, and praying for a tomorrow they don’t know will come.”

Shapovalova’s mother’s side of the family is in Dnipro, and her father’s side of the family had to relocate from Bakhmut and is now also in Dnipro. “I just want this to stop,” she said. “My uncle is in the army right now. My grandparents had to move, and my grandma doesn’t fully understand the situation, but she talks about how she wants to go back.”

She continued, “My mum’s best friend left the country and is a refugee in Germany. I have another friend who has been working to go to university, and it’s so much more difficult to apply right now because of the situation. I want the people to be able to resume their lives.”

The event in the University Chapel drew a crowd of almost 150 people. “A lot of people from town,” said Shapovalova, “a whole population of Ukrainians and Russians that I didn’t know existed came and some brought their flags and their children.”

Eight student speakers — Lasha Shamugia, Sofia Makovetska, Veronika Kitsul, Zhenia Khalabadzhakh, Lianne Chapin, Daryna Yushchenko, Nadya Fischenko and Shapovalova — offered reflections on the war from a range of background experiences. They told about family and friends in Ukraine, as they described how they remember the day of the invasion and living  through the past year.   

The University Chapel Choir, the Princeton University Glee Club, and Princeton Decem presented vocal musical numbers to complement the commemoration.

At Tiger Park on Nassau Street across from Nassau Presbyterian Church earlier in the day, from 12 to 1 p.m., about 40 people gathered to demonstrate for “a diplomatic surge to prevent endless and nuclear war in Ukraine.”

Carrying signs calling for “Mediation Not Escalation in Ukraine,” “Diplomacy Not War,” and “No Nukes in Ukraine,” the group stood in a vigil for 40 minutes, which was followed by a short rally in which CFPA Executive Director the Rev. Robert Moore spoke and read his recently published op-ed on the need for intensification of diplomacy to end the war in Ukraine.

He also read a letter from former Royal Navy and United States Navy fighter pilot Richard Moody warning against supplying fighter aircraft to Ukraine.

“The urgent thing right now is to find a way to de-escalate and to get a cease fire,” Moore said. “That isn’t getting the attention and prioritizing it deserves.” 

Noting that the war had reached a stalemate with both sides seeking military superiority, Moore continued, “We need to find a way to prioritize diplomacy, not soft-headed diplomacy — it should be hard-nosed diplomacy. Even a cease-fire like the one that ended the Korean War would be better than what we have now.”

Moore emphasized the danger of the use of nuclear weapons as long as the war continues. “We must support urgent and effective diplomacy to bring the year-old Ukraine war to a rapid end, save untold lives being lost in another endless war, and protect humanity from the danger of nuclear holocaust,” he said.

In the conclusion to her article Shapovalova wrote, “The one-year anniversary of war in Ukraine is a difficult event to wrestle with. The word itself — anniversary — seems wrong, as if there is something to be celebrated. The battles of one year ago persist today, at this very moment. There is so much that remains to be done, and a global collaboration is imperative to effectuating an end to this conflict.”

She continued, “In that same moment though, the people of Ukraine exist in a state of remarkable perseverance. They exist, and that is precisely what one year of the war should celebrate — life in the dark and in the midst of death. It is life that flows, in part, within me too.”