(G. Arizon/SFVS) The Ukrainian Culture Center in Los Angeles was incorporated in 1944 as a nonprofit organization.

Amid a cacophony of noise and a desire to help Ukraine, Los Angeles community members gathered at the Ukrainian Culture Center to assemble combat medical kits for soldiers fighting against the Russian invasion of the country.

The March 6 meeting was originally planned to honor Taras Shevchenko — a Ukrainian poet whose writings formed the foundation of modern Ukrainian literature. But the invasion caused the members of the Ukrainian Culture Center executive board to change the program into a response to the invasion.

“We knew that this event had to change and immediately started planning for something new,” said George Wyhinny, vice president of the Ukrainian Culture Center. “We also knew that our website had to be updated. We knew that we had to make contact with the Ukrainian diaspora. There was a lot of work that we had to do.”

As part of their call for action, volunteers would assemble more than 3,600 kits at the meeting. They will be combined with others made from previous events, enabling the center to send nearly 7,000 med kits to soldiers by March 11.

G. Arizon/SFVS
Volunteers helping to make med kits at the Ukrainian Culture Center that will be sent to the Ukrainian army on Friday.

“This project is going to continue in the next weeks and months as these kits will still be absolutely necessary,” Wyhinny said.

The meeting, conducted both in English and Ukrainian, featured community members and delegations announcing their support for Ukraine and denouncing Russia — more specifically President Vladimir Putin — for the violence. A sign projected from the main stage read, “Pray For Ukraine and Stop War.”

Hundreds of community members, all eager to show their support for Ukraine and do something to help, were in attendance. Board members also reached out to — and were joined by —   representatives of 19 delegations from across the European Union (EU), including Poland, France, Latvia, Croatia and Greece. 

Speakers included Julie Duhaut-Bedos, the French Consul General in Los Angeles who touted the European Union’s sanctions against Russia and Belarus (the latter for its complicity in the invasion). 

“The European Union intends to provide at least 500 million euros to tackle the humanitarian consequences of this tragic war, both in Ukraine and to bring assistance to the Ukrainian refugees,” Duhaut-Bedos said. “European countries are ready to welcome Ukrainian people in the coming days, weeks and months to provide them with access to schools, healthcare and work.”

Jarosław J. Łasiński, consul general of the Republic of Poland in LA, received applause as he arrived onstage. He talked about Poland’s close relationship with Ukraine (it was one of the first nations to recognize its independence) and maintained that his country would allow Ukrainian refugees to seek sanctuary there.

“We allow anyone to pass the border, regardless of their race, ethnicity, political and religious beliefs, with or without a visa, with or without passports,” Łasiński said. “Once they are documented … they have the same rights as citizens of Poland.”

Representatives from Stand With Ukraine LA — an organization protesting the invasion and providing humanitarian aid — encouraged the audience to help through donations, signing petitions and contacting their representatives in Congress. 

Mykhailo Lavrys of Stand With Ukraine LA also  appealed to the European representatives to provide more assistance.

“Unless the United States and other countries, including every single one represented here, interfere with significant military, financial and humanitarian aid, Ukraine will have millions of innocent people die and they will die soon,” Lavrys said.

“So you need to act quickly. There is no time to express your concerns.”

During a short Q&A session, people in the audience offered suggestions. One person mentioned she “had connections in the aviation industry”  that could help deliver goods to Ukraine.

Others, however, expressed a desire to do more. 

One attendee brought up LA Mayor Eric Garcetti and how he has been nominated for ambassador to India — a country that has yet to condemn Russia’s invasion. They suggested questioning the mayor and asking how he would put pressure on India to end their neutrality stance.

Another attendee put forth the idea of protesting outside the Russian consulate, but there isn’t one in Los Angeles. The closest consulate is in San Francisco. 

The latter half of the meeting became somewhat chaotic over the large volume of noise that reverberated throughout the center. The crowd grew restless, making it hard at times to hear certain questions and answers.

Nonetheless, Wyhinny was pleased by the turnout and reception.

“The people here were responsive,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting this many people would stay to continue to be involved. I think it’s very moving and touching to see the entire Los Angeles community come together.”

By the end of the night, volunteers had assembled more than 3,600 kits. They will be combined with others made from previous events, enabling the center to send nearly 7,000 med kits to soldiers.

“This project is going to continue in the next weeks and months as these kits will still be absolutely necessary,” Wyhinny said.

Stand With Ukraine LA and the Ukrainian-American diaspora is holding a rally on Saturday, March 12, in Santa Monica at 1 p.m. to demand that the Biden administration provide military aid and isolate Russia in all possible formats on the world stage.

For more information about the center and how to help, visit www.ukrainianculturecenterla.com/. For information about Stand With Ukraine LA and how to donate, visit https://stopwarinukraine.com/stand-with-ukraine-los-angeles/.