Latvian church brings Milwaukee-area residents together to rally for peace in Ukraine
Amid the ongoing horror of Russia’s assault on Ukraine — including the bombing of a maternity hospital, people in the Milwaukee area stepped up Wednesday in solidarity with the beleaguered country.
About 100 people gathered at a Latvian church in Wauwatosa to march for peace.
Church board president Andrei Junge welcomed people Wednesday afternoon and urged them to warm themselves inside Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Holy Trinity Church before the march began.
Junge said his church felt compelled to do something about the assault on Ukraine. Both Latvia and Ukraine have suffered under Russian and Soviet occupation for much of the 20th century.
“Last Wednesday, a lot of the Ukrainian church members from the south side came over here for Ash Wednesday service and we started talking to them and decided we need to do something. We’ve been where Ukraine is, and we fear we’re next unless Russia stops,” he said.
Latvia is not Ukraine’s immediate neighbor to the north. Belarus and Lithuania lie between.
Junge said his family has known the terror of war. “I’ve lived here all my life, I’m first generation. My mom actually was born in a displaced person’s camp in Germany, escaping World War II and my dad, I think, was four years old when his parents escaped,” he explained.
Inside the church, people milled about — holding Ukrainian flags and balloons bearing its colors, blue and yellow.
Others sat at a table making homemade signs proclaiming "No More War" and "Nyet to Russia."
One member of Milwaukee’s Latvian community said, "We’re all Ukranians now." A college student added there was no question, he needed to be part of the rally — his grandparents had to flee Ukraine during World War II.
Another person came from Mequon. While neither Latvian nor Ukrainian, she was ready to share her perspective but her words were lost to tears.
Joseph Spolowicz helped lead the march as the Ukrainian community’s official representative. He is parish council vice president of St. Michael’s Ukrainian Catholic Church on the south side of Milwaukee.
“My family arrived from Germany in 1956 and they ended up in Germany as [displaced persons] from Ukraine. They were taken as forced laborers during World War II and then after that, from Germany we came to the United States,” he said.
Spolowicz said now the unimaginable is happening, Ukraine’s freedom is disappearing with the snap of a finger.
“I have friends in Irpin who fled the country. Irpin is pretty much decimated. They had to flee and just pick up and go. They drove to a village where they thought would have less missile attacks over there," he explained.
Spolowicz believes every possible resource needs to be put together to stop the destruction of lives and democracy. “We need some help protecting the air space around Ukraine, I think Ukraine needs to entered in the European Union. I understand there are rules ... but this is not ordinary situation. Bring in more help. No one wants a nuclear war that's why we have to get that madman out of there," he said.
The sun shone bright outside as Lauma Zušēvics addressed the crowd from the steps of the church. She’s archbishop of the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church Worldwide.
“The world has not been silenced — thank God — it must not grow complacent but ever more compassionate as the courageous Ukrainian people defend the land they love, the freedom they will not surrender. Our hearts and our prayers are with them and with you here from the Ukrainian community in Milwaukee as you wait for news about your family members in Ukraine as the war continues. We pray for your strength. We will continue to be here with you and for you, and we hope the brutal, unprovoked attacks on your land stop,” Zušēvics said.
The church bells tolled as the marchers walked forward.
When they reached the intersection of North and Wauwatosa Avenues, the marchers scattered to all four corners, as passing cars sounded their horns in respect.