Locals turn out for ‘Day of Action’ for Ukraine

  • Former Pioneer Valley American Soviet Exchange Program participants and willing listeners gathered inside the Second Congregational Church for food, drink, and storytelling. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Former Pioneer Valley American Soviet Exchange Program coordinator Rebecca Tippens presents her “river goddess” sculpture, a souvenier from Ukraine. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Colrain residents Yosl Kurland and Peggy Davis sing a folk song to inspire hope. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Tippens holds an agenda that was used by Ukrainian exchange students during their time in the United States. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Former exchange student Dawn Spaulding presents photos of herself and her host family from when she was in Ukraine as a teenager. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Former Pioneer Valley American Soviet Exchange Program participants and willing listeners gathered inside the Second Congregational Church for food, drink, and storytelling. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Sympathizers of Ukraine rally around Greenfield Town Common to advocate for peace. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Sympathizers of Ukraine rally around Memorial Park in Orange to advocate for peace. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Sympathizers of Ukraine rally around Memorial Park in Orange to advocate for peace. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

Staff Writer
Published: 3/6/2022 4:55:07 PM
Modified: 3/6/2022 4:54:32 PM

GREENFIELD — Sympathizers of Ukraine have continued using their voices to bring the European conflict closer to home, gathering across Franklin County and the North Quabbin region to share perspectives Sunday afternoon.

Traprock Center for Peace and Justice and Franklin County Continuing the Revolution supporting the internationally-recognized “Day of Action” by hosting rallies for peace at Greenfield Town Common and Orange’s Memorial Park at noon. Then, around 1 p.m., a small group of former participants in the Pioneer Valley American Soviet Exchange Program from the late 1980s and early 1990s, as well as those looking to lend an ear, gathered at Greenfield’s Second Congregational Church to share good memories about their time in Ukraine. Colrain resident and former exchange coordinator Rebecca Tippens, who led the story circle, framed it as a matter of helping Americans be more in tune with the Ukrainian people.

Emotions ran high as advocates carried forth the momentum that manifested last weekend during Greenfield Common’s peace protest.

“It’s horrible,” Orange resident Lynn Boudreau said during her town’s rally Sunday. “Putin is a war criminal.”

“We’re all part of the same world and they should all have rights to the same freedom as everybody else,” Orange resident Donna Britt said.

While the advocacy of demonstrators was clearly fueled by a feeling of human interconnectedness, the ties of some locals to the Ukraine region ran deeper into its soil. Yosl Kurland, a Colrain resident who hosted Ukrainian exchange students through the Pioneer Valley American Soviet Exchange Program, began Sunday’s storytelling session with a story about how his grandfather escaped his home in Ukraine around 1884 at the age of 6 to avoid being forced into 25 years of Russian military service. Kurland, whose lineage is Jewish, said Russia would have looked to “take the Jewishness out of him” via military conditioning.

“This was a time when Ukraine was part of the Russian empire, but it was not Russia because Jews were not allowed in Russia,” he explained.

After telling this story, Kurland and his partner, Peggy Davis, sang a hopeful folk song they’d learned at an ethnic dance theater program that they felt applied to the current moment, ushering in a series of stories that were more reminiscent and joyous.

Tippens, who would sometimes accompany exchange students from the Pioneer Valley, told tales of great generosity on the part of Ukrainian people. Her experience, she said, was largely centered around an abundance of good food and the desire to give that accompanied. One tradition that resonated with her was the custom of bringing a loaf of bread to a guest at the door on a table runner with some salt and inviting them to eat. This custom, she said, still exists today.

“They love big breakfasts,” she added. “They’ll greet you with a big show and things like that.”

Colrain resident and former exchange student Dawn Spaulding, who spent the summer of 1990 in Ukraine as a teenager, recapped a very different experience. When she had lived in Ukraine, she said, her host family and the surrounding community were extremely poor.

“I stayed in a place where they didn’t have anything, so they would give us what they had,” Spaulding said.

She echoed Tippens’ sentiment that Ukrainian people were unwaveringly generous as she remembered her host family having gone out and killed a rabbit in order to provide her with food at one point. Spaulding said that other times, her host family was able to provide tea, borscht, and sweets at the table.

“I just want to remember that time … I was just learning about the world,” she said. “It was just such a momentous time in history and it was such an amazing time to be there.”

After the storytelling session concluded around 2 p.m., Tippens summarized the event’s importance as a way of helping people get a sense of who Ukrainians really are.

“People in the media are focusing on the refugees and the only photos we see are people crying with their babies and their fishbowls, trying to escape,” she said. “We really have no idea who the Ukrainians are, or the Russians, for that matter.”

Tippens said that many of those who had been to Ukraine as part of the exchange program had fallen out of communication with their former host families as conditions worsened in the country. With events like the storytelling session, Tippens said, locals with Ukrainian ties are given a way to feel connected once more.

“At least we can share our stories and memories with each other and know that there’s hope on the other side,” she said.

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-772-0261, ext. 261 or jmendoza@recorder.com.


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