'The whole world right now needs to unite': Rallies are being held across the US in support of Ukraine

People participate in a pro-Ukrainian demonstration in front of the White House to protest the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 26 in Washington, DC.

By Dakin Andone, Sara Smart, Polo Sandoval and Sarah Jorgensen, CNN

(CNN) -- Cities across the United States have seen rallies in support of Ukraine this weekend as the invasion by Russian forces continues.

Crowds gathered in cities including Atlanta, Washington, DC, and New York -- where Olga Ladygina told CNN at a rally in Times Square Saturday that she hasn't slept for the last three nights. Her friends in Ukraine have stayed up, too, Ladygina, who is from Kyiv, told CNN. But they're making homemade bombs to try to stop Russian tanks.

Ladygina has been up crying, watching the news and trying to call her loved ones who remain in Ukraine. It's a stark contrast to what she sees in New York, she said. On Saturday, she saw people sitting and eating in restaurants who "don't think that the war can come to their houses," she told CNN.

But peace, she said, is fragile.

"I think that the whole world right now needs to unite," Ladygina said, adding: "Now is the time to say no and stop one person who keeps in fear the whole world."

Since the Russian assault began early Thursday, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians have fled their homes, according to United Nations figures. But Ukraine has remained defiant, and President Volodymyr Zelensky has urged citizens to help defend their country. Early Sunday, the capital city Kyiv remained under Ukrainian control, while fighting had broken out on the streets of Kharkiv, the country's second largest city.

"Each Ukrainian should keep one thing in mind: if you can stop and destroy the occupiers -- do it," Zelensky said in a video message Saturday. "Everyone who can come back to Ukraine -- come back to defend Ukraine."

A similar resolve was seen among Ukrainian-Americans and their allies in the US as they demanded more action to support Ukraine and its outgunned military. Western nations have imposed sweeping sanctions on Russia in response to the invasion, and the US, UK and EU on Friday sanctioned President Vladimir Putin himself.

But some Ukrainian supporters think more needs to be done.

Ukrainians appreciate the support shown around the world, but it does not change the fact Ukrainians are dying, 18-year-old Tanya Fedak, a second-generation Ukrainian-American, said in a speech at a rally Sunday in Chicago, which boasts a large Ukrainian community.

"What we need is action," Fedak said. "What we need is physical support, and not just world leaders who can sit and watch mass destruction from the comfort and safety of their living room, tweet 'thoughts and prayers for Ukraine,' and then change the channel.

"What we are doing now is not enough," she said.

'Pray for Ukraine'

Simeon Tzolov estimated hundreds of people were at Sunday's rally in Chicago's Ukrainian Village, telling CNN he saw Ukrainian flags, along with those from America, Lithuania and Latvia. Tzolov himself is Bulgarian and American, he said, but he was there to support his Ukrainian friends and coworkers, calling the conflict in Ukraine an "unjust" and "unprovoked war."

Dan Ihor Diaczun, president of the Illinois division of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, told the crowd alleged attacks on Ukraine's civilian infrastructure were aimed at demoralizing Ukrainians and forcing them to capitulate.

"What Putin didn't count on," he said, "was the resolve and the will of the Ukrainian people, not only to resist, but to fight and fight hard."

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker was also in attendance, telling the crowd his family originally hailed from Kyiv, but "today we are all Ukrainian."

"Today we stand in resolve against tyranny," the governor said. "Today we stand for democracy and today we stand united for peace and freedom for Ukraine. To the heroes of Ukraine, Illinois is with you."

In downtown Atlanta, dozens of people gathered for a "Stand with Ukraine" rally Saturday. Some wore blue and yellow, the colors of the Ukrainian flag, while others carried signs that read, "Pray for Ukraine" and "Ukranians Unite!" as they sang the Ukrainian national anthem.

Ukrainian Anton Kilpa was among them. His parents live in Kyiv, Kilpa told CNN affiliate WGCL. He learned the invasion had begun when a Canadian-Ukrainian friend called him earlier this week, just before bed, and told him to phone his parents immediately.

"It was hard to believe," Kilpa told WGCL. "It was (a) new reality."

Joshua Hill, another attendee in Atlanta, doesn't have a personal connection to Ukraine, but he told CNN via Twitter he joined because "Ukraine needs the support of the world."

"Our leaders aren't doing enough," Hill said. "I'm here to show support for more action from the US government, NATO and all of Ukraine's allies."

Across the country, Josh Hersh went to a rally Saturday in San Francisco, where he said people shared personal stories about their Ukrainian family and friends. Several Russian Americans also spoke, Hersh said, and told the crowd they were standing with Ukraine. A group of musicians also attended, singing a traditional Ukrainian song.

"A few Ukrainians joined in and led the singing. It was really powerful," he said. "And there was laughter at moments, which was good to see too."

In Los Angeles, a large crowd rallied for hours Saturday afternoon as cars drove by honking to signal their support as well, according to Mark Haynie, who was there with his wife, Anastasiia Ponomarova. The crowd was mostly Ukrainians but there were other eastern Europeans as well, he said, including Russians.

Haynie told CNN Ponomarova escaped her apartment in Donetsk with just a suitcase and her cat in 2014, when parts of the Donbas region fell under the control of Russian-backed separatists. Ponomarova felt few people cared back then, Haynie said. But she's happy that Ukraine appears to be receiving support and recognition for its struggles today.

'I just wanted to show my support and solidarity'

In Washington, DC, another crowd demonstrated in front of the White House Saturday.

Many attendees hoisted Ukrainian flags or had them draped around their shoulders as they chanted, "Stop Putin now."

Other signs called for more robust consequences, like expelling Russia from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), a high security network that connect thousands of financial institutions around the world. On Saturday evening, the White House and the EU announced the expulsion of select Russian banks from SWIFT.

One demonstrator, JP Wheeler, told CNN he was "just a concerned citizen" with no personal ties to Ukraine. "No family or friends, just a human connection and a desire to support the Ukrainians and (their) struggle," Wheeler said.

A couple miles away from the rally outside the White House, Eleanor Shiori Hughes, a graduate student at Georgetown University, left flowers on the steps of the Ukrainian embassy, where a sign read "Long Live Free Ukraine."

She, too, had no connection to Ukraine.

"I just wanted to show my support and solidarity for the Ukrainian people," Hughes said.

That solidarity was shown in ways other than protest, too: Across the country, buildings lit up blue and yellow to signal support for Ukrainians. Among them were state capitols in New York and Colorado, along with Atlanta City Hall.

"We know that freedom, democracy, and independence are a light unto the world," Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said in a statement.

"We are proud to cast the colors of the Ukrainian flag across our own State Capitol as we continue to support and pray for the brave people of Ukraine during this dark time," he said.

'The world needs to act'

Similar demonstrations were held in a number of cities on Friday.

In Nashville, CNN affiliate WTVF reported several dozen protesters had gathered on the steps of Tennessee's state capitol that morning.

"Sanctions are not enough," one sign read, per footage from WTVF. Another: "The world needs to act now."

Alisa Kaiser told the station that most of the demonstrators probably had family in Ukraine. "They're happy we're not there, because we're safe here," she said. "But all you want is to be there with them to support."

She added: "We need to make sure that this does not go further than it already has ... It's gone too far."

Students at Indiana University in Bloomington also staged a rally Friday, per affiliate WRTV. Iryna Voloshaynra, an international student whose parents and sister remain in Ukraine, was one of the participants. She told the station she hadn't slept much because she was afraid of waking up to bad news.

"It's just heartbreaking to see my country being invaded," Voloshaynra told WRTV.

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