AMSTERDAM — The Ukrainian flag was raised on the grounds at Amsterdam City Hall on Thursday to commemorate the 32nd anniversary of the nation’s independence observed for the second straight year since the country was invaded by Russia.
“Especially this year it’s very meaningful since there is a war going on,” said Nataliya Salada, who moved to the United States from Ukraine in 2015.
Nataliya Salada was among the roughly two dozen members of the local Ukrainian community gathered on the nation’s Independence Day for the ceremonial flag raising at City Hall. She was joined by her parents and daughters, but her brother and his family remain in Ukraine.
“They live in the western part of Ukraine, which is not the front lines, but still missiles fly there sometimes, so we’re always worried for them. We always check in,” Nataliya Salada said. “Our day always starts with the news … and my day always ends with the news.”
Ukraine declared its sovereignty on Aug. 24, 1991. The ongoing conflict in the country began when it was invaded by Russia on Feb. 24, 2022.
Amsterdam raised the Ukrainian flag at City Hall last year in a display of solidarity following the invasion before later holding a candlelight rally at the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook Pedestrian Bridge in March 2022.
The city renewed its support for Ukraine and denounced its continued occupation by Russia with a resolution passed by the Common Council at a special meeting on Tuesday authorizing the flag raising.
“It’s an honor for me to be mayor of a city which has been so greatly enriched and served by its community of Ukrainian American residents for well over a century,” Mayor Michael Cinquanti said during the occasion. “We have witnessed one of the most gallant and courageous efforts put forth by any country in modern times to maintain their freedom and their dignity.”
“I pray that our country and the rest of the world does whatever it takes for as long as it takes to ensure Ukraine wins this struggle against evil so the Ukrainian people can recover from the horrors of an unjust war,” he continued.
Ihor Salada, originally from Ukraine, proudly helped raise the flag as his granddaughters Sofia and Iryna Balamda led the group in singing the country’s national anthem.
“This is the holiday Ukrainians cherish,” said Ihor Salada, translated from Ukrainian by his daughter Nataliya Salada. “We’re happy to celebrate it here.”
Sofia Balamda, age 10, said it was a “privilege” to perform the anthem of her mother country. She and her six-year-old sister each wore traditional headbands with the nation’s flowers and white dresses with patriotic phrases in Ukrainian in white and gold lettering brought by their uncle this summer.
“On behalf of our Ukrainian community I would like to say thank you to the city of Amsterdam and the American government for helping Ukraine,” said Sofia Balamda, before showing her appreciation by leading the group in singing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
The somber gathering observed a moment of silence in recognition of the soldiers fighting and those who have died to protect Ukraine’s independence.
Nearly 500,000 Ukrainian and Russian troops have been wounded or killed since the war began, the New York Times reported on Aug. 18. Stephen D. Zabielski, an Amsterdam native, was among the casualties.
Nearly 70,000 Ukrainian soldiers have died with 100,000 to 120,000 wounded. Approximately 9,369 civilians have been killed and 16,646 injured in the conflict through July, according to the United Nations.
“Even though it’s been more than a year, the war is still going on and they need our support and help like the first day it started,” Nataliya Salada said. “A lot of people forgot about it as time goes, but our community stays strong.”
Nataliya Romanishin, who works in the City Controller’s Office after moving to the United States from Ukraine 19 years ago, said it was an honor to see her nation’s flag raised at City Hall and a sign of the broader support the nation and its people have received.
“It means America accepts all countries from the world and honors them and we can honor Independence Day here in the United States. Especially in this war time, it’s very important to us that we never lose our country,” Romanishin said.
Romanishin was able to ensure her parents’ safety by bringing them from Ukraine to stay with her in January under the U.S. sponsorship program, Uniting for Ukraine. Her brother and nephew remain in Ukraine near the border with Poland where they try to support troops from the rear.
“The country is fighting against evil and we will raise our flag for years ahead,” Romanishin said. “They fight very hard for that, they’re losing their life, they are very patriotic to their homeland and we are proud of the feeling we have.”
While the flag raising was a solemn occasion this year, Romanishin is hopeful the community will be celebrating the end of the war and Ukraine’s liberation by the nation’s next Independence Day.
“This day is sad, because the war is still on,” Romanishin said. “I wish next year … we will celebrate our victory on our Independence Day or sooner.”
Reach Ashley Onyon at [email protected] or @AshleyOnyon on X.