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PHOTOS: Dozens gather for interfaith Ukrainian vigil in Jacksonville

Anatoli Kadaev, pastor of the First Russian Ukrainian Baptist Church of Jacksonville, calls the past 19 days "the toughest days of all my life."

It was Feb. 24 that Russia invaded Ukraine. On Monday, Kadaev and more than a hundred people gathered at Jacksonville's Klutho Park for an interfaith, Ukrainian solidarity vigil.

Speakers encouraged attendees to lift prayers and make donations to organizations responding to the humanitarian crisis.

“Today my spirit is lifted up by you, by your presence here, dear friends,” Kadaev told the crowd.

Some local faith leaders, including Dr. Parvez Ahmed, board member with the Interfaith Center Northeast Florida, spoke of the connections between the situation in Ukraine and politics in the United States.

“We cannot advocate for Poland to take Ukrainian refugees when we turn away refugees at our own borders; we cannot demand that other countries don’t go to war on false pretenses while we go to war on false pretenses,” Parvez said. “So we have to practice what we preach, and we have to hold our own system accountable.”

Religious leaders spoke and prayed, before lighting candles and singing "Let There Be Peace on Earth" with the crowd.

Attendees ranged from political candidates like Donna Deegan and Lashonda Holloway to Ukrainian-American immigrants and Jacksonville residents with loved ones affected by the crisis.

Andrew Traylor returned to Jacksonville, his hometown, in December after spending the last four years in Kyiv.

“That became kind of like my second home,” Traylor said. “It’s just horrifying. It’s just hard, hard to get it out of your head.”

Traylor said his wife was still in Ukraine at the start of the Russian invasion and recently fled to the Netherlands. She’s one of more than 2.8 million Ukrainian people who have become refugees from Russia's military invasion.

The vigil’s organizers encouraged donations to international aid groups, like the Red Cross, and to the First Russian Ukrainian Church of Jacksonville, which has been sending funds to support Ukrainian refugees in Germany and elsewhere in Europe.

Claire joined WJCT as a reporter in August 2021. She was previously the local host of NPR's Morning Edition at WUOT in Knoxville, Tennessee. During her time in East Tennessee, her coverage of the COVID pandemic earned a Public Media Journalists’ Association award for investigative reporting. You can reach Claire at (904) 250-0926 or on Twitter @ClaireHeddles.