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Posted on: March 16, 2022

Mayor Lee Harris' Update: Ukraine is Fighting for all Democratic Nations

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Since I have been Mayor of Shelby County, I have regularly lifted up the concerns of the oppressed here at home and in places around the world. I have pushed for an expansion of our country’s refugee program and worked with stakeholders, like World Relief Memphis and the American Red Cross of the Mid-South.

I believe this approach is consistent with the very DNA of our community. After all, once upon a time, the refugees fleeing oppression were African American escaped slaves. They traveled, often on foot, to Canada, and found refuge. They escaped to the North, to cities like Philadelphia, and found refuge. During the Civil War, enslaved Black people all over the Deep South escaped to Memphis and Shelby County, where they found refuge. We have refugees and the descendants of refugees all around us.

That history forms the backdrop for our community's greatest strength, our diversity, our generosity, our faith. What’s happening in Ukraine right now implicates everything we value as a community. We have seen the disturbing images. Every day on our television screens, almost any time of day, we see human suffering, death, and dislocation. This is hard to watch, but we cannot turn away.

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Recently our office hosted a panel discussion with local experts on the Russian attack on Ukraine.

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Kalyna Hanover, of Ukrainian descent and Olena Petrova, a native of Ukraine, joined us to discuss the Russian invasion.

We need to have a local conversation about what's happening at home and around the world. Our event on the Russian invasion of Ukraine included representatives from World Relief and the Red Cross, who spoke on what their organizations are doing to help families caught in peril. Dr. Jennifer Sciubba, associate professor of International Studies at Rhodes College spoke on the long-term impact this invasion will have on global democracies. Dr. William Novick, a cardiac surgeon in Memphis whose nonprofit, Novick Cardiac Alliance, had a team leave Ukraine just weeks ago, spoke on the terrible impact the Russian attack has had on Ukrainians. 

We also heard from Olena Petrova, who is from Ukraine. She moved to the United States in 1996 and to Memphis in 1999. Ms. Petrova had been waiting for days to hear from loved ones who were trying to reach the Polish border. Panelist Kalyna Hanover’s parents were born in Ukraine. Ms. Hanover lived there and ran a business for several years. Now, she's worried as well for the family and friends who have left their daily routines behind to make Molotov cocktails and prepare to defend their homes. Since this assault began, thousands of Ukrainians have been killed. Close to 3 million have escaped and will need resources. We owe it to them to take the time to understand what’s happening, even in a place halfway around the world.

There are things we can do for those who have been forced to flee and the ones staying to fight.

First, we can demand that our leaders expand, for the mostly women and children who have left, their ability to find safety here in the United States. That includes expanding resettlement and residency protections for Ukrainians who are already here and cannot go home. Ukraine is the size of Texas, our second largest state. Millions of families will be uprooted as a result of this crisis. Resettlement will be the last resort if this crisis continues and these families are unable to return to their homes. Memphis and Shelby County, led by our faith community, has a long history of welcoming refugees. Shelby County has welcomed refuges during World War II, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Rwandan genocide, and the Syrian refugee crisis. Most recently, Afghan refugees have found homes here.

Second, for those who have stayed to fight, we can demand that our national security leaders expand supports to the Ukrainians waging battle against tyranny. Ukraine is a democratic nation with a duly elected president and parliament, chosen by the people of that country. Right now, they are waging war for all of us, as they fight for our shared democratic principles. We can and we should help them in every way that we can.

Third, we should support the agencies, like the Red Cross and World Relief, as they help in this massive effort. We must encourage our places of worship to do the same and to work hard within our own spheres of influence to both raise awareness and provide tangible assistance. We cannot surrender. We all benefit from strong democracies around the world and the freedoms that come with those democracies. Those benefits come with obligations. Please use your influence to help support the cause for freedom and help protect those who are now fleeing for their lives.

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