Ridgefield holds candlelight vigil to support Ukraine amid Russian invasion: ‘We didn’t forget them’

Photo of Alyssa Seidman

RIDGEFIELD — Flickers of candlelight illuminated the center of Ballard Park Sunday evening as residents gathered to stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine.

The vigil came as the country ended its 18th day of war with Russia. It was organized by Women for Ridgefield, which seeks to forge friendships and join efforts to support the town, local charities and community members in need.

The group provided candles to attendants young and old. Some Ridgefielders sported blue and yellow clothing, the same colors of the Ukrainian flag. Blue and yellow ribbons also adorned the Ballard Park bandstand and neighboring trees.

For Women for Ridgefield member Krystyna Gut-Wanta, who has family in Poland, the current conflict is personal. She said her aunt can hear planes overhead day and night, evoking painful memories of World War II.

“The idea was to do something to try to unite the town, and show the Ukrainian-American community … that we didn’t forget them,” Gut-Wanta said. “They turned out.”

About 70 people attended the vigil despite the cold, including Ukrainian-Americans.

Local faith leaders Cantor Deborah Katchko-Gray, of Congregation Shir Shalom, and Monsignor Kevin Royal, of St. Mary’s Parish, led attendants in prayer and song.

“Many have thought such things happening in Ukraine would no longer happen in the world, but it just makes very clear the vigilance and solidarity nations have to have with each other,” Royal said. “The more we learn about what’s going on the more support we realize we have to give, in whatever ways we can do it.”

East Ridge Middle School chorus teacher Rebecca Merrick sang “Imagine” by John Lennon, accompanied by local real estate agent David Harris on guitar.

In a powerful gesture, Ukrainian-Americans spontaneously stepped up into the bandstand to sing the country’s national anthem, causing one woman to break down in tears, Gut-Wanta said.

“Coming together in prayer with the cantor and the monsignor, unifying all people of different religions, races and ethnicities, this is what they needed,” Gut-Wanta said. “My family is on the front lines helping the refugees, (but) we want to take it further to see how we as a group can (address) long-term needs.”

Ridgefield High School junior Emma Costello set up a collection table at the vigil as part of her National Honor Society project. She raised $950 for Save the Children’s Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund.

Women for Ridgefield has asked residents to consider supporting organizations on the ground delivering resources and aid, including Save the Children, Americares and Samaritan’s Purse.

St. Mary’s also started a collection for Ukraine over the weekend, which has raised more than $20,000. The donations will be sent to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to be distributed to charitable organizations in Ukraine.

If you or someone you know is doing something to benefit Ukraine during the Russian invasion, please email alyssa.seidman@hearstmediact.com .