At least 3 million refugees have fled Ukraine since Russian forces invaded in February, with an additional 2 million internally displaced. That’s a conservative estimate according to some human rights groups, and millions more are trapped in their homes, confined to a basement or bomb shelter.
“Those are big numbers,” said Kateryna Hansen, a native Ukrainian who has called Utah home for the last 11 years. “So let’s put some names to it.”
Hansen was one of many speakers who took the stage during the “Voices for Ukraine” event at Salt Lake City’s Cathedral of the Madeleine Monday evening, where singers, dancers and artists convened to raise awareness and funds for the war in Eastern Europe.
Speaking to hundreds of people — including Utah Gov. Spencer Cox and first lady Abby Cox — packed into the pews, spilling over into the aisles and any available standing room, Hansen talked about her friend who was shot at by Russian troops as she fled the front line, despite clearly being in a civilian vehicle.
About her elderly uncle, who is too weak to escape to the bomb shelter when the air raid siren sounds, and instead hides under his couch.
About her friend who lacks formal military training, but is staying in Ukraine to fight.
And about her friend Svetlana, an emergency room nurse in the city Mariupol where intense fighting has left hundreds, likely thousands, dead. Hansen hasn’t heard from her friend in weeks.
“The reports we have heard from there are not optimistic,” Hansen said, wiping away tears as she described the last text she received from Svetlana. “It’s all good, and we will hang in there,” the text read.
“It felt strange not knowing if she is alive or dead,” Hansen said.
The event, hosted by the Madeleine Choir School and the Utah Ukrainian Association, featured members from the Utah Symphony, Ballet West, Utah Opera, the University of Utah and various Ukrainian musicians. Alex Boyé, British-American singer and actor, also performed, singing his original song “Bend, Not Break” in Ukrainian.
“Tonight I am a Ukrainian with a tan,” said Boyé, who is Black, drawing laughter. “A good suntan.”
The renowned singer usually sports a white line under his eye, a mark that symbolizes the atrocities of the slave trade. But recently Boyé has changed his look, with the mark above his right cheekbone painted yellow and blue, the colors of the Ukrainian flag.
Those colors were everywhere Monday night, as hundreds of people pinned a blue and yellow ribbon to their clothing — those that didn’t chose a sunflower instead, the national flower of Ukraine.
Around 25 artists set up in the rooms outside of the cathedral’s halls, selling paintings, jewelry, photos and floral arrangements. Dubbed “Art for Peace,” all of the proceeds will be donated to Stella’s House, a charity raising funds for Ukrainian refugees in Moldova.
The U.N. and other human rights groups say there are about 230,000 Ukrainian refugees now in Moldova, the poorest country in the European Union. “Art for Peace,” started by Stella’s House founder Elena Barlow and Alina Nagdimunov, is a way to try and ease the burden on those families housing Ukrainians.
“I’m from Ukraine, Elena is from Moldova, we have friends from Russia, we have friends from Belarus. We wanted to send a message that we will stand united against the horror in Ukraine,” said Nagdimunov. “Art is a great way to do that.”
In just a few weeks since the program’s inception, Barlow and Nagdimunov say they’ve generated around $20,000 through donations and art sales.
One of those artists is Galyna Flohr, who on Monday described her macabre, yet hopeful, painting of a church spattered with blood, with smoke from bombs as a backdrop. The painting, she said, “represents Ukraine these days.”
“At the end, it will all bloom into peace and no war.”
Like many at the event, Flohr fought tears as she described the violence — all of her family and most of her friends are still either in Ukraine, or have fled to neighboring countries. One of her friend’s families now has an address in Poland, and Flohr spends her free time sending care packages filled with warm weather clothing and basic hygiene products.
“That’s what helps me live and breathe right now, because I can’t sleep, I can’t relax,” she said.
Numbers on casualties vary depending on the source — the U.N. estimates over 900 civilians have died, with another 1,459 wounded since the invasion began. Human rights groups say the death toll is probably far higher.
Meanwhile at least 3 million have fled into neighboring European countries, over one third of them now in Poland.
Many will try to resettle in the U.S. in the coming months, a lengthy process muddled by red tape that can put families in a state of limbo for years.
Leaders from President Joe Biden to Utah Gov. Spencer Cox have made it clear they are ready to resettle anyone fleeing the crisis. But unlike the evacuation of Afghanistan, where over 70,000 people were resettled in the U.S. in about one month, refugees from Ukraine will have to go through a more traditional pathway. It usually takes 18 to 36 months.
Since the end of February when Russian forces invaded, a fraction of those displaced have been resettled in the U.S. — a recent report from CNN estimates just under 700 Ukrainians have resettled in the U.S. since last October.
It’s likely many refugees will choose to stay in a European country, too. “The preference of individuals is to still remain somewhat close to home,” Natalie El-Deiry, executive director of the International Rescue Committee in Salt Lake City, told the Deseret News recently.