Warren – Blue and yellow Ukrainian flags billowing in the cold wind as nearly 200 people cheered calls to action on Thursday were a clear sign that the Russian invasion has reverberated through the Detroit metro.

The day after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a military operation in Ukraine, a rally at St. Josaphat’s Ukrainian Catholic Church in Warren aimed to show support for the country and demand that those responsible take action to end to further violence.

“It’s an affront to all democracies,” said U.S. Representative Andy Levin, D-Bloomfield Hills, a member of the House Ukraine Caucus who sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “… This is an extremely serious matter.

The event, coordinated by the Ukrainian-American Crisis Response Committee of Michigan, drew residents with ties to the area as well as elected officials and others from the Detroit metro area.

Some of those who braved the cold in the parking lot outside St. Josaphat held homemade signs such as “Stand up with Ukraine” or draped themselves in the country’s flag.

Mykola Murskyj, chairwoman of Michigan’s Ukrainian-American Crisis Response Committee, noted the continued unease in the community as the conflict simmered.

“It’s a difficult time for everyone,” he said. “…We hope that by gathering here today we can signal to those protesting in Ukraine and elsewhere around the world that we stand with them.”

Irene Watts, whose deceased grandparents grew up in Ukraine and met in a concentration camp in the 1940s, began to cry thinking about their reaction to the invasion if they were alive.

“It would have broken them,” she said. “I’m glad they died knowing a free Ukraine.”

Some of the speakers at the rally urged local towns to take in Ukrainian refugees and demanded severe consequences against Russia.

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“We have to listen to the story,” Warren Mayor Jim Fouts said. “That can never happen again.”

Fouts said he hopes the Biden administration and its international allies will stand up to Putin. “We can’t let this little man destroy the world,” he told the crowd.

Officials and aid groups believe the situation abroad could trigger a refugee crisis.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, casualties and people fleeing their homes have already been reported.

Speakers pleaded for peace, justice and protection.

“Hearts are breaking, bodies are breaking, minds are breaking,” said Rabbi Yoni Dahlen of Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield.

“But just as we reserve room tonight for brokenness, for tears, for anger, for exhaustion, we must also believe deep in our hearts and the determination of the Ukrainian people. And the pride and valor autonomy, freedom, and in the dreams of a today and a tomorrow when our world will fight back with a strong and united voice against despotism, against bigotry and against hatred.”

The opportunity to speak out and shine a spotlight on the cause drew attendees like 16-year-old Elizabet Chekovich of Washington Township, who has family in Ukraine. “I just want to support my family,” Chekovich said. “What is happening is not fair.”

Earlier Thursday, Michigan officials weighed in on the crisis.

“The invasion of Ukraine is an unjustifiable violation of international law, and we need an immediate diplomatic solution that ends hostilities and protects innocent lives,” U.S. Representative Rashida Tlaib said in a statement. “We must focus on protecting the millions of innocent lives in Ukraine that are now under the unconscionable threat of Putin’s violent aggression.”

Wayne County Commission Chair Alisha Bell said, “At this perilous time, we stand with the people of Ukraine and condemn this unprecedented attack on their nation and their freedom. We also support efforts to resolve this horrific and unprovoked situation without further bloodshed. »