For my CA chapel, Jen Lamy ’09, Will Herold ’09, and Eric Edelstein ’09 made me a huge Ukrainian poster out of blue and yellow construction paper. I think as was the custom at the time, Jen got the paper from Martha Kennedy in the library and took up most of the floor piecing it together—much to Martha’s disapproval, I’m sure.

For sentimental reasons (or perhaps because I have strong hoarder tendencies), I saved the poster at my parents’ house ever since my chapel. When my parents moved a few years back, I asked them to pack the chapel signs and posters and bring them with them. I just couldn’t throw out those pieces of CA. 

Fast forward to late February. On a Sunday, three days after Russia invaded Ukraine, my mom and all of my friends and family who had emigrated from Ukraine gathered in Boston to join the protest against the war. As they were leaving for the protest, my mom was sad and concerned because she didn’t have any Ukrainian symbols to bring with her. So, I took out my chapel poster. I removed the taped-on “Happy Tonia Chapel” letters and the photo that was there until all that remained was the huge Ukrainian flag. I taped all those pieces of construction paper together again and gave the flag to my mom. 

To our surprise, when she got to the protest, people flocked to her asking to sign the flag. She couldn’t march because people were waiting in line to sign in solidarity. My mom urged them to write where they were from, and people from all over the world came to show support. People from Russia stood by timidly, unsure whether they were welcome to sign as well, but my mom encouraged all of them to. Some Russians cried, saying they were so ashamed. One young Ukrainian woman came to sign. When my mom asked her where she was from, she said Kharkiv, and burst into tears. That city has been heavily bombed, and she wasn’t sure if her family was OK. In the end, the whole poster was filled with signatures. 

The original chapel poster, made by Tsinman’s friends, after being taken out of storage.
Tonia Tsinman ’09 with her aunt and uncle, presenting the symbol of solidarity with Ukraine, signed by many in Boston in February, to her congressional representative’s office.

I didn’t want the poster to just sit in my closet after the protest, so I decided to take further action with it. My mom and I set about seeing if we can get it into the hands of local politicians and representatives so that they know that the people of Boston and Massachusetts stand with Ukraine. I contacted my congressional representative’s office and scheduled a meeting to give it to the representative’s team in person. On March 9, my aunt, uncle, and I presented the poster, which we were told would be hung in the district office. I hope that it will serve as a symbol and reminder for the congresswoman that the people of Massachusetts stand with Ukraine, and that they call on her to use her voice within Congress to act to help the Ukrainian people.

This has meant so much for my mom, me, my family, and my family friends. All of us have loved ones in Ukraine. Most of them didn’t leave in time and now are uncertain of their future. Most have fled my hometown of Dnipro to seek refuge in cities, towns, and villages on the Western borders. But no one is safe. My childhood friend, his dad, and his brother-in-law drove their wives and children to a Western village, then decided to go back to Dnipro to defend the city. For them, they saw no other choice but to fight until the bitter end to defend their home. I am so worried and proud of them. I cannot imagine the guts it takes to do that. 

I wanted to share this story with the CA community, of how a chapel poster stuffed into the corner of my closet suddenly transformed into a symbol of international support for my home country, 13 years later. Though we have felt completely helpless since the start of the war, being able to do nothing but watch in horror from the U.S. and constantly check in on the people we know in Ukraine, my chapel poster has unexpectedly given me and my mom a way, albeit small, to stand up and fight for my country. This is one way a CA tradition has stayed with me and continued to help me long after I graduated. Now it is helping me raise the visibility of this issue and to urge people to act through donation, volunteering, and continued condemnation of Russia’s actions.

If you want more information about what is happening in Ukraine or about ways to help or donate, please reach out to Tonia via email at ttsinman@gmail.com or send her a message on Twitter.

Tsinman’s mother holds the poster, transformed into a flag, while individuals atending the protest in Boston leave messages of hope and support for Ukraine.

Tonia Tsinman ’09 reached out to Concord Academy after a relic of her senior chapel at CA came in handy in a time of need, transforming into a symbol of solidarity. Born in Dnipro, Ukraine, Tsinman is completing a doctoral program in bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania. This is her story.

  Connect with Tsinman on Twitter at @TTsinman for resources to help Ukraine.

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