Students hand out ribbons in support for Ukraine

On Sunday, March 2, Russian military persons entered three military bases in the Crimean region of Ukraine, demanding surrender and sparking international debate about the area’s standing.

In response, University of Alabama students will hand out black ribbons around campus on Wednesday, as an act of solidarity with those defending democracy in Crimea as well as in Caracas, Venezuela.

Matthew Steele, a Czech-American and a senior studying international relations, is leading the ribbon event. With the help of other students interested in the current international stage, including international studies and Russian majors, Steele said he hopes to prompt discussion about the situation in Ukraine.

“As people that share passion and study the region of Eastern Europe, after what happened over there, we kind of decided that we would like to commemorate those who fight for democracy and those principles that are so dear to us,” Steele said. “We feel responsible, as some of us study political science, to speak out about these things when they happen.”

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Steele and a handful of volunteers will hand out black ribbons all day to spread awareness among American students, who Steele said he believes are connected, despite the distance, to the Ukrainian protesters, many of whom are students themselves.

“It is also important, because those people that are actually fighting on the streets of Kiev and on the streets of Caracas in Venezuela, many of them are students like us,” he said. “They share these principles [of democracy], and many of them paid with their lives.”

Despite Steele’s efforts, he said he has found a lack of interest on campus, and that has in part led him to call student groups, encouraging them to step up and participate in awareness campaigns or take part in discussion panels.

“The discussion is not there, unfortunately,” Steele said. “We definitely should care because we are all citizens of the world, and we are citizens of our countries, and most of us stand for the principles of democracy. Those freedoms are instilled in the charter of the United Nations; those are natural rights.”

(See also "U.S. action in Libya key to fostering democracy")

Jennifer Landry, a junior majoring in international studies who studied in Russia last summer, said she wants to educate the student body and encourage them to get involved. She said students can write letters to their representatives in Congress, asking for American support of democracy in Ukraine and Venezuela.

“While we know very well what’s going on, most of the student population probably doesn’t,” Landry said. “It’s hard for us to imagine being in that place, but it’s something that we should imagine, because it’s so important to have those basic civil liberties and have the right to determine for yourself what kind of government you’re going to have.”

Landry said she anticipates a positive response from students but is open to opinions that do not match her own, as they still mark increasing awareness among young Americans.

“As long as they’re aware of what’s going on and forming opinions, I think that’s a step forward,” Landry said. “There are a lot of out-of-state students, so we really have a large reach at [The University of] Alabama.”

Steele and Landry agreed that the ribbon event is one way for students at the University to stand up for democratic rights and show compassion for fellow academics abroad. Both said silence and inactivity are the greatest enablers of international injustices.

“There is a way for students to impact what’s going to happen on a bigger level,” Landry said. “To let aggression continue is to say that this is okay, and this is the world we’re okay with living in.”

(See also "Internet media doesn’t aid democracy")

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