Bomb shelters and air raid sirens have become a part of everyday life for the family of Andrii Anpilogov, a Palo Alto resident who grew up in Kyiv and whose mother, sister and other family members still live there.
"The day is quieter than the night," Anpilogov, 36, said in an interview Monday when asked about his relatives' day-to-day life while under attack by the Russian military. "Closer to night, you hear sirens and alarms, you go to the bomb shelter and you sleep if you can. Then you wait until morning and go back to the apartment."
A software engineer, Anpilogov is one of more than 10,000 Ukraine natives who now live in the Bay Area. He also has extended family in Sumy, a city in northeast Ukraine that experienced a fierce battle in the first days of the Russian invasion. Like many others, he has spent recent days checking in with loved ones, attending rallies and lobbying Silicon Valley giants to take a more active stance in the conflict, which in just days has upended the geopolitical order.
"The actions today for everyone who stays abroad are pretty simple. It's to donate, spread the word and ask people around you not to be silent," Anpilogov said.
With their native land in crisis, the Ukrainian population in Palo Alto, Mountain View and other Peninsula cities has become increasingly visible and active over the past week. They have been lobbying lawmakers to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine and encouraging Meta, Alphabet, Apple and other Silicon Valley giants to more proactively aid Ukraine's resistance against Russia's massive invading force.
According to the American Community Survey of the U.S. Census, there are about 114,146 residents in Santa Clara County who report having Ukrainian ancestry. The prominent role of the Peninsula's Ukrainian population was on full display on Sunday afternoon, when hundreds gathered in front of San Francisco City Hall to chant, pray and make an urgent plea to the United States and the international community: Close the skies over Ukraine. Cut off Russian oil. Block information technology in Russia.
Among them was Yulia Bezvershenko, a participant in the Emerging Leaders Program at Stanford University's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. Bezvershenko, who serves as director general of Directorate for Science and Innovation at the Ministry of Education and Science, stressed the importance of Ukranians abroad doing their part to support the nation.
"We know that every minute now we have to do something," Bezvershenko told the crowd. "Here, we sometimes think that we're a bit guilty that we're not there: We're not fighting; we're not killing the enemies of our country.
"But what we know after the Revolution of Dignity is that every person matters," she said, referring to the February 2014 citizen uprising that led to the ouster of the pro-Russia president Viktor Yanukovych. "We are drops in the ocean."
She noted that allies of Ukraine here can lobby their politicians, manage provisions, manage collections of money and speak to people about the events in Ukraine.
"There are many people here and everywhere in the world who are standing with Ukraine and doing every minute something to help Ukrainians to fight," Bezvershenko said.
As the violent assault quickly unfolded, the past week has been a time of tension, anxiety and uncertainty for Ukrainians here and abroad, with Russia shelling civilian targets in Kyiv and Kharkiv, the nation's second biggest city, and surrounding the city of Mariupol near the Sea of Azov in east Ukraine.
But Pavel Buynitsky and Iryna Buynytska, who immigrated to the Bay Area from west Ukraine, say they detect no panic when they speak to their parents in Ukraine.
When the war was just starting in the early morning hours of Feb. 24, the Sunnyvale couple called Iryna's parents, who live close to a military base in the city of Ludsk, to make sure they knew what was coming. At that time, there was a sense of disbelief that a full-scale invasion was imminent.
Then came the sounds of explosions and orders for seeking shelter, Iryna said.
"They immediately told us they needed to go down into the basement because there were Russians attacking a military base and trying to destroy airfields and infrastructure," she said.
Since then, both sets of parents have adapted to the new normal, Pavel said. About 1 million people had already fled Ukraine, according to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi. But as of late last week, neither his parents nor Iryna's were planning to leave.
"The panic is gone. We're hearing it firsthand from the people we called: There's no panic," he said in an interview Saturday. "You will not find people standing in lines in front of ATMs."
The couple attended the rally on Sunday, which included speakers from Nova Ukraine, a Palo Alto nonprofit that works to provide aid for Ukraine, as well as Ukrainian activists, academics and members of the clergy.
Hundreds of people held up signs with the words "Stop the War" and "Stand with Ukraine" and chanted "Slava Ukraine/Heroyam Slava" (Glory to Ukraine/Glory to the heroes).
Nariman Ustaiev, director at the nongovernmental organization Gasprinski Institute for Geostrategy and a participant in Stanford University's Emerging Leaders Program, addressed the crowd and reminded them that 16 children in Ukraine were killed by Russian invaders in four days. (The number has since risen dramatically as Russia began to shell civilian targets in Kharkiv and elsewhere with artillery. As of Wednesday morning, Ukrainian officials estimated that about 2,000 civilians had been killed).
Ustaiev led the crowd in a chant of "No Fly Zone" and called for increasing supplies of weapons to the Ukrainian army.
"Ukraine needs Barakhtars. Ukraine needs Stingers," he said, referring to unmanned aerial vehicles and portable air-defense systems that the Ukrainian army has been deploying against the attacking Russian army.
While Ukraine has received significant military supplies and financing from its American and European allies, as of Wednesday a no-fly zone appeared to be off the table. The United States and its 29 partners in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have expressed no interest in blocking Russian planes from the Ukrainian sky, a move they say is tantamount to declaring a war against a nuclear power.
U.S. President Joe Biden has repeatedly asserted that he will not get the American military directly involved in the war, a position that he reiterated on Feb. 24, when Russia began its full-scale attack. Though he agreed to move American soldiers east to support NATO allies, they will not engage in the conflict in Ukraine, he said.
"Let me be clear: These are totally defensive moves on our part. We have no intention of fighting Russia," Biden said.
Russia's military actions since then, which have included bombings of civilian targets in Kyiv and Kharkiv as well as the destruction of oil and gas pipelines, have not changed the White House's calculus. On Monday, as a giant convoy of Russian troops advanced toward Kyiv, Biden Press Secretary Jen Psaki said establishing a no-fly zone is a step that the U.S. is not willing to take.
"The president has been very clear that he is not intending to send U.S. troops to fight a war with Russia," Psaki said at a Monday news briefing. "What's important to note here is that that is essentially what this would be a step toward. Because a no-fly zone would require implementation; it would require deploying US military to enforce, which would potentially be a direct conflict and potentially a war with Russia, which is something we're not planning to be a part of."
Big Tech steps up
Ukrainian activists in the Bay Area have seen greater success on the technology front, with local tech giants taking actions to support Ukraine. Since the Russian invasion began, Meta implemented new privacy tools for Facebook users in Ukraine to make it easier for them to quickly lock their profiles. The Menlo Park-based company had also restricted access to Russia's state-run propaganda networks, RT and Sputnik.
Alphabet, which is based in Mountain View, disabled features of Google Maps in Ukraine that provide live traffic information and show how busy locations are, according to a Feb. 27 report by Reuters. And both Google and YouTube moved to demonetize Russian state media by blocking their abilities to run ads.
Apple followed suit on Tuesday, when it stopped selling iPhones and other products in Russia. The move by the Cupertino-based company followed active pressure on the tech giant by Ukrainian political leaders. On Feb. 25, Mykhailo Fedorov sent a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook asking him to "stop supplying Apple services and products to the Russian Federation, including blocking access to App Store.
"The armed forces and citizens are defending Ukraine till the end! The whole world is repelling the aggressor through the imposition of sanctions — the enemy must suffer significant losses. But we need your support — in 2022 modern technology is perhaps the best answer to the tanks, multiple rocket launchers (hrad) and missiles," Fedorov wrote in the letter, which he published on Twitter.
In addition to limiting use of Apple Pay and other services, Apple announced that RT News and Sputnik are no longer available for downloading from the App Store outside Russia. The company also disabled traffic and live incidents in Apple Maps, a move that it took "as a safety and precautionary measure for Ukrainian citizens," the company said in a statement.
Anpilogov said pressuring tech companies to undertake such policies is a critical task for local Ukrainians, many of whom work in these companies. Some employees have been circulating an online petition under the #SaveUkraine banner urging companies to — at a minimum — display blue-and-yellow logos (the colors of the Ukraine flag), issue statements against the war and inform their customers about the crisis unfolding in Ukraine.
"We want all the companies — from Apple and Google to the smallest coffee shop in your town — to show solidarity with Ukraine and the free world. It can be done with a simple gesture, just as we use the red ribbon for AIDS awareness sign, or show solidarity with LGBTQ+ community using a rainbow flag," the petition states.
Anpilogov said that Bay Area companies like Facebook and YouTube have been playing an important role in amplifying Russian propaganda since 2014, when Russia took over the Crimea and began to crack down on popular bloggers and dissenting voices. Customers who submitted requests in Russian or Ukrainian requesting that their accounts be restored found that their requests typically went nowhere — in sharp contrast to requests made in English, he said.
Even with the recent moves, he believes there is more that companies can do.
"They can revoke licenses and demand that companies not be affiliated with the government and military," he said, "They can spread awareness with users in Russia and around the world."
Locals rally behind the cause
It's not just those with ties to Ukraine who are trying to make a difference and demonstrate their opposition to the war. Vladimir Yakunin, who moved to Mountain View from Russia in 2014, said he felt simultaneously angry and horrified when he saw footage of Russians bombing Ukraine on the night of Feb. 23 (the morning of Feb. 24 in Ukraine).
On Feb. 24, Yakunin organized a rally in front of Mountain View City Hall, where he was joined by about 10 other people in voicing their opposition to the war.
"We knew (Russian President Vladimir) Putin was crazy, but I didn't think he was that crazy," Yakunin, 35, said in an interview. "After this, there's no sanity left that I can believe in."
Sohan Pannu also felt a personal connection to the horrors unfolding half a world away. A 15-year-old sophomore at Foothill High School in Pleasanton, Pannu has been volunteering at ENGin, a nonprofit that pairs American and Ukrainian youths for online English lessons. His partner for the past five months, Kostya Dukhno, is 13 and lives in Sumy.
When the war began, Pannu texted Kostya to see if he was safe. Kostya responded that everything is quiet and normal, though his family had earlier heard shots and explosions and there were tanks running through their city.
When Pannu checked in with Kostya later, he was at his grandfather's house, ready to retreat to the basement if warfare resumes near his home. But on Friday, he reported that the city was under attack by Russia and that his house shook from the explosions of bombs and missiles.
"He said a missile hit close to his house and there was a lot of shaking — stuff fell upstairs and in his family room."
The Ukrainian army ultimately retook Sumy, but Kostya's world has changed profoundly, Pannu said.
"He just noticed how different things looked outside. There was smoke and everything seemed so different to him," Pannu said. "It's crazy how we think we have a lot of internal issues, but he's literally dealing with life and death on his doorstep."
In Palo Alto, residents with and without ties to Ukraine expressed horror, sadness and deep concern at the events unfolding in Kharkiv, Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities. City staff displayed yellow and blue lights on the top floors of City Hall and dozens of residents attended a candlelight vigil on Tuesday night to show support and say prayers for Ukrainian people, an event that was spearheaded by the College Terrace Residents Association.
Mary Bartholomay, who organized the event, recalled prior movements in support of nonviolence and former President Barack Obama's speech in accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, in which he talked about the gradual evolution of institutions around the world toward peace. She acknowledged, however, that the message can only go so far when a nation is besieged by an invading force and said that she is not feeling particularly nonviolent as she watches Russian troops advance on Ukraine.
"I know the principles of nonviolence are not going to stop a 17-mile convoy of Russian trucks," Bartholomay said. "And there are realities that have to be faced."
James Cook, president of the College Terrace Residents Association, said it's important during a time of trauma for people to come together and "show each other that we still believe in peace and still believe in love."
"There are things in today's world, especially in today's pandemic, where you can feel alone and helpless," Cook said. "Imagine what it would be like to have that life upturned by someone invading your country, killing your friends and family."
Irina Cross, a native of St. Petersburg, Russia, said she was deeply ashamed by the war being caused by Putin, for whom she said she has nothing but hatred. She also said she was ashamed of politicians who have yet to stop all payments for Russian oil and gas.
"That's where Putin gets his money. That's what I'm ashamed of," Cross said.