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‘Act dead so Ukrainians can live.’ In busy Rittenhouse Square, re-enactments of Russian war atrocities seek to spark action

Anger and agony over the atrocities of the Russian war mounted in Philadelphia on Saturday as Ukrainian-Americans and their allies staged a dramatic “death” during a busy Rittenhouse Square farmers’ market.

The recorded wail of an air raid siren signaled the protesters, who did not simply lie on the ground, as is common in similar events. Instead, they took prone and silent positions on the lawns and sidewalks, keeping their bodies bent and twisted to represent the horrific and intimate scenes of death emerging from the Ukraine.

Some had their hands tied behind their backs. Others had fake blood on their faces and clothing, and temporary tattoos of bullet holes on their foreheads.

People lay on plastic bags to represent the gruesome finds in the mass graves, even as farmers’ market shoppers strolled through gardens with bags of apples, lettuce and eggs in their arms.

“I think people must feel uncomfortable,” said organizer Roman Strakovsky, 40, a data analyst who lives in Mount Airy. “People must feel uncomfortable with the fact that there is a genocide taking place in the heart of Europe.”

Staging a tableau of death in the heart of a famous flowery city park on a beautiful spring day might unsettle pedestrians, he and others said, but it was no more disturbing than what is happening in Ukraine.

“We’re just portraying reality,” said organizer Kate Rybak, 44, a human resources manager who lives in Churchville, Bucks County. “If you turn someone off, I can’t control it. I hope that people at least take an interest in learning.”

The organizers said they wanted to spur people to action, force them to face the facts of Russia’s routine killing of civilians, and encourage them to contact their elected representatives and demand more weapons and aid for Ukraine.

Called Act dead so Ukrainians can livethe death was organized by members of Philly Stands With Ukraine, which creates, supports and publicizes all kinds of rallies, fundraisers, news and events.

“I thought it was powerful,” said Christine Carlson, 59, who was in the plaza enjoying the sun and warm temperatures when she met her death. “It’s a little different than seeing it on TV.”

Throughout the park, dogs pulled on leashes, parents chased children, and mothers and fathers pushed babies in strollers. People chatted with friends, making plans for coffee. Into that comfortable spring scene came a reminder that Ukrainian civilians die every day in a war they didn’t start.

“It’s crazy what’s going on,” said Ajane Ikner, 19, a student at Ukraine-funded Manor College in Jenkintown, who attended the event with friends. “This is something I can do to show support.”

As people lay motionless and silent on the ground, the bells of the nearby Holy Trinity Church rang out, playing the Easter hymn, “Jesus Christ is Risen Today.”

“My friends are in danger all the time,” said Anna Kulynych, 28, a Ukrainian student who is in the United States while studying at Temple University. Her cheek was marked with fake blood. She fell to the ground with more than 30 other people.

Suitcases, teddy bears, children’s shoes and bicycles served as props, imitating the personal belongings of the Ukrainian dead. Some people lay under Ukrainian flags and others clutched yellow and blue scarves.

“I’m just trying to get people to act,” said Kate Minkina, 26, here from Ukraine to study at Villanova University, her face streaked with fake blood, “to contact senators for help.” for Ukraine”.

President Joe Biden has called the situation in Ukraine “genocide,” amid sweeping demands for Russia to be held accountable for war crimes.

Photographs and videos have shown bodies in civilian clothes that have been shot and buried in mass graves. Amid the withdrawal of Russian forces from the outskirts of the capital, kyiv, Ukrainian officials and foreign journalists shared images of bodies lying in the streets of Bucha and surrounding towns.

Large graves “full of civilians” were found in Bucha, Hostomel and Irpin, a spokesman for President Volodymyr Zelensky told the BBC. Some people had their hands and legs tied and had bullet holes in the back of their necks.

The images have become part of a searing montage that includes video of the rocket attack on a train station of refugees waiting in Kramatorsk.

“I was shocked to the core,” Strakovsky said, explaining the reason for death. “I didn’t want to stand up and make speeches. I wanted action. He wanted people to put their bodies in danger and feel discomfort. And make others feel some discomfort.”

He was 10 years old when he came here from kyiv with his family, who are Jewish. They were admitted under an immigration program that accepts persecuted religious minorities from the former Soviet Union and other nations.

He and others called on the leaders of the free world to stop “this modern day genocide” and hold Russia accountable.

“It’s not a ‘protest,'” said organizer Rybak, who was wearing a T-shirt stained with fake blood on Saturday. “It’s reality. … This is not a nice Hollywood movie happening in the Ukraine.”

Rybak is Russian-American, coming here from Siberia nearly 30 years ago. She rescinded her Russian citizenship after that nation annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

Her husband is Ukrainian. For them, the war feels close.

To others it may seem distant, he said. It’s hard to get people to pay attention for more than a little while, even at major world events, and even if others are being killed.

“This should be in people’s faces,” Rybak said. “This is beyond all evil. And this must stop.”

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