MONTPELIER — More than 100 people gathered on the Statehouse steps Tuesday evening to hold a vigil for the people of Ukraine and to watch Gov. Phil Scott authorize humanitarian aid for the country, which remains in the throes of war after Russia invaded late last month.
Scott held the public signing after the Vermont Legislature fast-tracked a bill over the past week to send $644,826 in aid to Ukraine. The sum represents $1 for every Vermonter, plus $1,749 — the sum the Vermont Department of Liquor and Lottery collected from sales of Russian-sourced products between Feb. 24, when Russia launched its invasion, and March 2, when Vermont took Russian liquor off its shelves.
Scott announced at Tuesday’s vigil that the funds would go to Save the Children.
“Ukraine's fight to protect their people, their rights and their land, and what that means for democracies across the globe is too important for us to sit out,” Scott said. “We must do our part.”
As the sun set over Montpelier, Lt. Gov. Molly Gray; Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint, D-Windham; and House Speaker Jill Krowinski, D-Burlington, each spoke at the podium to express their support for the people of Ukraine and the Legislature’s response.
The front facade of the Statehouse was lit up in blue and yellow to represent the colors of the Ukrainian flag. In the crowd, some attendees held blue and yellow signs or draped themselves in the flag itself. A few held bouquets of sunflowers, Ukraine’s national flower.
Save the Children has been working with local partners in Ukraine since 2014, largely in the eastern part of the country, said Gary Shaye, who represented Save the Children at the vigil. The organization is closely monitoring the situation in the Ukrainian city of Odessa, Shaye told the crowd, as they expect any attacks in Odessa to prompt a new influx of refugees in Romania. In Poland, they are primarily working to assist unaccompanied minors leaving Ukraine.
Save the Children’s aid ranges from debit cards to food to warm clothing, Shaye said.
Yuliya Gulenko Rudick of Colchester held a large sign that stood out in the crowd. It read, “Block Sky Over Ukraine.” Rudick said she supports creating a no-fly zone in Ukrainian airspace.
Rudick was born and raised in Ukraine and has lived in Vermont for the past 15 years. Her father and grandparents are still in the southern part of Ukraine.
“The war needs to stop,” Rudick said. “I'm terrified for my dad, my family, my friends there.”
Rudick is in regular contact with her family, she said, and she took several photos of Tuesday’s vigil to send to her dad. She helped organize Sunday’s rally near the Statehouse in support of Ukraine, and she said he appreciated Vermonters’ gesture of solidarity.
“Knowing that, hey, across the globe, there's Vermont and people standing for us, supporting us, that really means a lot to people,” Rudick said.
Missing out on the latest scoop? Sign up for Final Reading for a rundown on the day's news in the Legislature.