‘Light will win over darkness’: App State candlelight vigil shows solidarity for Ukraine


Max Correa

Students embrace at the candlelight vigil for the crisis in Ukraine Thursday, March 17, 2022.

Cameron Stuart and Ethan Hunt

App State students and faculty showed support for Ukraine at a candlelight vigil on Sanford Mall Thursday.

Andres Tellez, assistant professor of Applied Design, organized the vigil. Appalachian Advocates, a program designed to promote diverse perspectives, Office of International Education and Development, International Appalachian and International Business Student Association were also part of its creation.

“I thought that we needed to amass our community together to show our solidarity with the people in Ukraine and the Ukraine community,” said Tellez, an Appalachian Advocates member.

On Feb. 24, Russia invaded Ukraine, following months of increased tensions between the two nations, according to the U.S. Department of State. Since its official Independence Day from the Soviet Union Aug. 24, 1991, Ukraine faced various attacks from Russia, including cyber attacks in 2016 and 2017, according to USDS.

Around 50-60 people attended and participated in Thursday’s vigil.

Students lit candles despite high wind while listening to speakers from the university’s student body and faculty Thursday, March 17, 2022.
(Max Correa)

The event began at 6 p.m. with a speech from Tellez, where he emphasized solidarity, peace and love winning over hatred.

“Hatred never ceases by hatred but by love alone is healed. So, violence is never the answer but love and peaceful resolutions of conflicts,” Tellez said. 

Tellez is from Colombia and said his grandmother and great grandmother were displaced due to internal violence in the country.

“When I see more than two million refugees fleeing Ukraine, when I see the towns, the housing being destroyed, the people dying for no reason, it becomes personal. It touches me deeply,” Tellez said.

The vigil included speeches from Brian MacHarg, director of Academic Civic Engagement in the OIED and Meredith Pipes, director of Appalachian Advocates and Chris Zaman, iPals co-president and IBSA advisor. Participants lit candles, held a moment of silence and wrote notes of support to send to the Ukrainian embassy.

Tanya Molodtsova, an economics professor who is from Ukraine also spoke.

“The heart of every Ukrainian in the world, whether they are in Ukraine or outside, is broken right now, just watching how your country is being destroyed every day by the aggressor,” Molodtsova said.

Molodtsova said every bit of support is important, and showing community support helps Ukrainian people feel less alone.

“It was great to see such a good turnout,” Molodtsova said. “Everyone was really supportive of me and generally of people in Ukraine, so it was very touching for me to see that.”

Pipes said the group helped organize the vigil because they wanted to provide support for the international student population and anyone suffering from the violence in Ukraine.

Pipes said Molodtsova’s speech moved her.

“Part of standing in solidarity for people is trying to put yourself in other’s shoes and trying to think about what that’s like,” Pipes said. “So, I think that really brought home that experience to me in particular.”

Sophomore biology major Lucas Blanco wasn’t aware of the vigil but joined after seeing the participants standing on Sanford. 

“The people over there are just people like us who woke up one morning and found that the world is about to change,” Blanco said. “This is really, really urgent right now.”

Student Lucas Blanco writes a letter to Ukrainians atop a homemade sign during the vigil Thursday, March 17, 2022. (Max Correa)

Graduate student Marc Pfrogner said the Ukrainian conflict is important to him because he is from Germany, which has close economic relations to Russia.

“Even though we live really far away from it, we should also show that we care for the people that have a lot worse right now than we do,” Pfrogner said.

MacHarg spoke during the vigil about the lessons he learned from living through the anti-Iranian sentiment resulting from the Iranian hostage situation, where an Iranian militant group seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and took 66 Americans hostage.

Years afterward, MacHarg traveled to Turkey and befriended an Iranian man in Istanbul, who told him to remember himself and his family, not the Iranian government, when thinking about Iran.

“This is the difficult part of peacemaking. We stand with the Ukrainian people, but Russian people are victims, too,” MacHarg said. “They are victims of an autocrat who is perpetuating this war … Let’s remember in our hearts, good people around the world who themselves are victims of injustice, both Russian and Ukrainian.”

Molodtsova said she agreed with MacHarg’s speech, calling this “Putin’s war” and not Russia’s war.

Zaman said it is important to donate to Ukrainian charities and relief organizations and hopes to work with Molodtsova to increase donations.

Zaman said he was skeptical about the vigil’s outcome but said having Molodtsova speak, instead of just Americans, added credibility to the event.

“Ideally, I think I would’ve wanted to do more, like, QR codes or providing sources for us to support charities and businesses for Ukraine, but I think we’re already taking steps to do that, so I’m pretty happy with it now,” Zaman said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivered a speech to the U.N.s March 1 and said: “Nobody is going to break us. We are strong. We are Ukrainians. Life will win over death, and light will win over darkness.”

“As we burn our candles, light will win over darkness,” Molodtsova said in her speech Thursday, in reference to Zelensky’s speech.

Online donation sites for Ukraine include With Ukraine, Revived Soldiers Ukraine and United Help Ukraine.