Local Ukrainian artist Natalia Shevchenko paints what she knows.
In a shaded Stanford University courtyard on Sunday, she stood next to several of her works of art that depict young women from her homeland. They’re all wearing traditional floral headdresses, known as vinoks, and their eyes are filled with emotions ranging from hopeful to angry.
For Shevchenko, the portraits are a mirror into her own feelings about the current conflict in Ukraine.
“I see my country as a friend, someone who has very similar desires to be independent, to be free and to be successful, to be European,” said Shevchenko, who moved to the United States from Ukraine in 2011.
Through tears, she added, “When I was painting this, I was thinking about someone who was strong, brave, proud … someone who is going to fight no matter what.”
Shevchenko’s art display was part of a larger “Lighthouse for Ukraine” gathering at Stanford’s campus on Sunday that featured Ukrainian arts and crafts, traditional foods and a slate of high-profile experts such as Michael McFaul, former US ambassador to Russia, and Ukraine Consulate General Dmytro Kushneruk — all in an effort to keep attention on a war, now entering its third month, that has resulted in the deaths of thousands of Ukrainians and forced millions more to flee their homes.
McFaul, now an international studies professor at Stanford, said to a cheering crowd that Russian President Vladimir Putin “has already lost this war.”
“He may win some battles,” McFaul said. “But the big war, the objectives, he’s already lost. Remember what he promised the world when he invaded Ukraine? He said that Ukrainians were just ‘Russians with accents.’ And he (said) that he was going to bring them back into the (Russian) Empire. He failed at that.”
Following McFaul was Consulate General Kushneruk, who has served in his role for almost two years. In an interview, Kushneruk said that raising awareness is important more than ever now because the public ‘s interest in the war, in his view his, has waned.
“Because it has been more than 70 days of war, the fundraising efforts have been more difficult,” the consulate general said in an interview. “But the necessity of this money doesn’t go away at all.”
One of those funding efforts is being overseen by Mick Safron, a member of the Ukrainian American Coordinating Council. The nonprofit has been raising money to send body armor, helmets and other protective equipment to Ukraine.
“The war is not over,” Safron said. “Putin is not dead. Yet. And we have to stop Putin and Russia because if we don’t stop them, then there will be another dictator in other countries who will start to kill peaceful civilians and kids. We have to find a sustainable way for Ukraine to survive in the mid-term and long-term.”
Safron said that while the US-provided weapons and sanctions imposed on Russia have helped, more needs to be done. He advocated for increased American involvement in the war and vocally supported a “lend-lease” program President Joe Biden plans to sign Monday that will ramp up military aid to Ukraine.
The event brought a couple hundred of attendees to Stanford’s Bechtel International Center, with many wearing blue-and-yellow scarves, T-shirts and pins in honor of the country’s flag. Vendors, many of them either locals or Stanford students, sold items like an apple and raisin-filled mlyntsi, a pancake-like dish usually filled with either sweet or savory fillings. Another vendor sold a pyrizhky, a bun-shaped pastry with a sweet glaze on the outside.
One of the Ukrainian students running the event, physics Ph.D. candidate Kateryna Pistunova, said it is important for Americans to get a taste of what her country’s culture is like. She is one of 30 members of the university’s Ukrainian Student Association.
“The idea is to connect everyone together … Ukrainians, but also people who share our values of freedom and democracy because this is not only a Ukrainian fight,” said Pistunova, who is from eastern Ukraine. “This is a fight for everyone who cares.”
Though Pistunova may be thousands of miles away from the conflict, her father is currently fighting for the military and her mother has escaped to Germany. “As soon as they heard the shots (during the beginning of the invasion), my mother hid in the basement and my dad went to his military base,” she said.
Stanford’s event coincided with a surprise visit to Ukraine on Sunday by First Lady Jill Biden, who met with the country’s first lady, Olena Zelenska, and visited a school that is serving as a shelter for civilians. It also capped off a weekend of peace rallies around the Bay Area, with events in Berkeley, Oakland, San Mateo and even on the Golden Gate Bridge.
“We’re here to call out to our country and the leaders of other great countries, like Russia and Ukraine, saying: ‘War is not the answer,’ ” said Toby Blome, one of the members of a local peace group called CODEPINK who took their anti-war protest to the San Francisco bridge. “Everyone loses from war.”
Bay Area News Group photographer Jose Carlos Fajardo contributed to this report.