A rally to support Ukraine and condemn Russia’s aggression as the war reaches its two-year mark will be held this Sunday in Pittsburgh.

Organizers see this event — scheduled for 2-4 p.m. at Liberty Park Downtown — as “an observance of the solemn anniversary of Russia’s unprovoked full-scale invasion of Ukraine and a reflection upon the 10th year since Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea and its hybrid war in Donbas,” according to a Facebook event posting.  

Similar events are being held this weekend in Washington, D.C., and around the country, according to Believe in Ukraine and #LightWillWinOverDarkness, an Instagram account, and two Ukrainian women now studying and working in Pittsburgh.

Olha V. Tsyliuryk, a Ukrainian lawyer who fled the country when the war started, and Olesia Dalebiha, a paralegal who came here in 2021 when her husband became a doctoral student at the University of Pittsburgh, have organized the Pittsburgh rally, working with Klych, a worldwide community of creators of projects and large-scale events to support Ukraine. Tsyliuryk said they have invited people from different regional community groups with ties to Poland, Hungary, the Republic of Georgia and other countries, as well as Pittsburgh’s large Ukrainian community and its organizations. “The Rusyn community [in Pittsburgh] also offered to support us, too,” she added.

The two women participated in weekly Klych phone calls to plan the Pittsburgh rally, which will include performances from children in the Ridna Shkola Ukrainian School and other Ukrainian musicians and artists. She said people from the invited communities have been asked to speak because “they may have the same problem and concerns with Russia.”

The goal is to tell the truth about Russian aggression against Ukraine, which started with the invasion and annexation of Crimea and then war in the Donbas region. “War started 10 years ago, not two years ago,” Tsyliuryk said. “Now more than ever we need the continued support. We want the true story of what happened in Ukraine. Ukrainians defend democratic values.”

To accomplish that, she continued, Ukraine needs the financial support of the U.S. and the international community. 

When the war began, Tsyliuryk was serving as the legal adviser to the mayor of Enerhodar, 420 miles from Kyiv. She was also an elected member of her Bucha district council and a university lecturer with her own law practice, according to a 2022 article in Pitt’s University Times. Enerhodar is the site of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant that the Russians occupied and is currently in an “extremely volatile” position, according to an NBC report this week. Russian forces remain in control of the plant.

She remembers the date she left at the urging of family, colleagues and friends: Feb. 26, 2022. She drove to Warsaw, then flew to Washington, D.C.

Tsyliuryk was one of eight Ukrainian law students who came to Pitt’s Center for International Legal Education with full scholarships in 2022. She has since earned her LLM, or master of laws degree. The center is part of Pitt’s broader Ukrainian Legal Assistance Project, which is helping prepare the students to rebuild their country after the war and to connect them now with law firms and companies here for pro bono work that can help Ukraine today, according to the article.

Olha Tsyliuryk (Submitted photo)

Currently she is continuing her studies at Pitt’s law school as a doctor of juridical science student, its most advanced degree, working as a research associate there and interning in Matthews International’s legal division, according to her LinkedIn profile. She is preparing her dissertation, focusing on the enforcement of Ukrainian judgments in international jurisdictions for the recovery of damages from Russia. Tsyliuryk explained, “My research examines this issue’s legal, political and practical aspects, aiming to contribute to a comprehensive understanding of the obstacles and potential solutions associated with enforcing judgments in this complex international context.”

Dalebiha, who grew up in a village in Ukraine’s Vinnytsia region before moving to Trypillia in the Kyiv region, was visiting her home country one month before the Russians invaded in 2022. She and her husband, who completed his degree at Pitt, have protected status so they can stay here, and Dalehiba helps immigrants from around the world who have come to the Pittsburgh area with their legal paperwork.  

The two women are heading to the D.C. rally with other friends Saturday because of the worldwide campaign, which will continue after this anniversary’s observances. The effort here, they said, starts with Sunday’s rally.

“Our main goal with this rally is to say to people to believe in Ukraine,” Dalebiha said. “When the war started, no one believed Ukraine could resist for this long.” Noting that some believed Ukraine would fall to the Russians within a week or even fewer days, the need now is for “the world to continue believing and supporting us.”

With the rally and future events, she stresses that the cause is a global and a local one. “We just want people to understand it’s not just our interests,” Dalebiha said. “It’s also in the interests of the United States and the safety of the United States. The money we ask for [from Congress] to support us, it’s also an investment.”

Tsyliuryk has no relatives in Pittsburgh. Her family all lives in the center part of Ukraine, and they won’t leave, even after a male family member’s brother-in-law died in Bahmut fighting for his country.

“Everywhere is dangerous in Ukraine,” she said. My parents will never leave Ukraine. They love Ukraine.”

Tsyliuryk still teaches online as a lecturer for the Department of the Theoretical and Legal Disciplines at KROK University in Kyiv. And it is difficult. “Sometimes our classes are interrupted by an air raid siren, and sometimes by a blackout,” she explained in a speech at an event hosted by K&L Gates in Pittsburgh last year. “However, we should do everything for our education because that is what Russia wants, to leave Ukrainian children without education. But our education is our future.”

In that speech she lamented that her prior dreams and plans were destroyed, like those of a million Ukrainians. “My home district, Bucha, which was so beautiful, up-and-coming, and [it’s in a] comfortable to live in area, became a place where Russians committed horrible war crimes, and many of our citizens were brutally murdered … our district has suffered devastating losses,” Tsyliuryk told her audience.

The war forced her to leave, but Tsyliuryk said she has been doing her best to help Ukraine and pledges to continue doing so. “Since day one in the USA, I have been trying to do my best,” she said last year. I joined a humanitarian mission, organizing humanitarian aid delivery to Ukraine. Yet my biggest contribution to Ukraine will be after our victory, then I’ll use my experience, knowledge and Pitt Law education to restore my country. This is my new plan.”

The two women hope for 100-plus attendees on Sunday. For those who attend and those who can’t, they can help by sharing information about Ukraine and the need to support it.

Olesia Dalebiha (submitted photo)

“It’s very important to provide this information,” Tsyliuryk said. “This war is going on, and we can’t allow to let people get used to having war in the center of Europe.

“Our goal is to raise awareness, show solidarity with the Ukrainian community and advocate for an end to violence and aggression. Ukrainians defend not only their country’s independence but also the values of the entire democratic world.”

Information about Sunday’s rally and directions to Liberty Park are available on Facebook at https://fb.me/e/7bcHhEfrS.

Helen is a copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but she's currently on strike. Contact her at hfallon@unionprogress.com.

Helen Fallon

Helen is a copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but she's currently on strike. Contact her at hfallon@unionprogress.com.