Ridgefield celebrates Ukraine’s Independence Day

Photo of Sandra Diamond Fox

RIDGEFIELD — Wearing t-shirts with “Hope for Ukraine” in blue and yellow letters and carrying freshly picked sunflowers — the national flower of Ukraine — about two dozen people walked from Ballard Park to Ridgefield Town Hall on Saturday afternoon to recognize the Independence Day of Ukraine, and to bring awareness of and support to the war.

Annetta Hewko, chairperson of Ridgefield Responds, a mobilization effort that organized the event, said Aug. 24 was Ukraine's 31st anniversary of independence from the Russia-dominated former Soviet Union.

"Sadly, Wednesday was also the six-month anniversary of the latest Russian invasion of Ukraine,” Hewko said. “On Wednesday, Ukrainians could not gather in their cities to celebrate their independence.”

She added the war in Ukraine is “raging” and security risks of gathering and becoming targets are too great.

Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi, wearing a Ukraine-themed shirt, said the town of Ridgefield is gathering on this day to help Ukrainians maintain their independence under this “horrible humanitarian disaster.”

"We need to support them and they need to know that we support them,” Marconi said. “That's the single most important reason why we're here today.”

Ridgefield resident Ross Voytovych, who was at the ceremony with his wife, Julia Voytovych, and their son, Theo, 8, spoke about his trip to Ukraine to see family members, and described the conditions there.

“In Ukraine itself,” he said, “it's an eerie feeling.”

In several of the towns that surround Kyiv, he said he saw a lot of buildings were “really leveled. Some of them are partially standing.”

He said he saw the resiliency of the people there.

“People are willing to get back to normal with what they have,” he said.

While many looked on, Marconi and others raised the Ukrainian flag in front of Town Hall, alongside the American flag.

To support Ukraine, Ridgefield Responds has been collecting donations and organizing events — one of which was a June festival, which offered Ukrainian food.

Through Ridgefield Responds, "We were able to collect close to $50,000 as of today,” Ross Voytovych said.

“It's an entirely volunteer effort,” Julia Voytovych added. “We work directly with people in need in Ukraine. We are staying committed.”

She added Ridgefield Responds is now working on other events to support Ukraine.

"We'd like to show a movie with Ukraine. We would like to have events with people who are helping directly on the ground in Ukraine, talking about their work,” she said.

Many local businesses, including HERs Modern Boutique, Deborah Ann's Sweet Shoppe and the Ridgefield Running Company, have been donating proceeds of sales towards the Ukraine effort and selling special edition Ukranian-themed products.

Ridgefield Responds is also putting together educational programs around Ukraine and Ukrainian culture with the Richfield Library. Additionally, they’re partnering with the Ridgefield Playhouse on a new film about Ukraine.

“It's heartbreaking, it's hard to express your feelings without tears,” said Julia Voytovych, prior to the ceremony, when thinking of Ukraine and her family members who are there. “Comparing last year to this year — it’s day and night.”

Ross Voytovych said while Ukraine might feel distant from the United States, "the spirit of unity here is very strong. We met people here in Ridgefield that do really feel for Ukrainians — and during our talk, during our conversation, I’ve really felt like a pure understanding and pure compassion (in them). It was like it was their relative.”

sandra.fox@hearstmediact.com 203-948-9802