Protest: Individuals gathered near the entrance to the Pier Friday to support Ukraine. Matthew Hall

Scores of Ukrainians and their supporters rallied in Palisades Park at the foot of the Santa Monica Pier in support of the besieged Eastern European nation on Friday afternoon, Feb. 25, the day after Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized a full-scale military invasion of the country.

“As we’re standing here in this beautiful California sun, my nephews and nieces back in Ukraine, who are like two years old and eight years old, are in bomb shelters with their parents, and there’s nothing I can do from here to directly protect [them],” a woman named Olga — who said she was a Ukrainian citizen — told the crowd gathered at Ocean Avenue and Colorado Avenue. She urged Americans to request Western governments impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine, cut Russia out of the SWIFT international banking system and send military arms to the Ukrainian Army.

“The Ukrainians are not just fighting for themselves; they’re fighting for the entire democracy of the world,” Olga said. “We need to help them win this fight.”

Following impromptu remarks by several members of the crowd, a sound system played the Ukrainian national anthem, “Shche ne vmerla Ukraina” or “Ukraine[‘s Glory] Has Not Yet Perished” — sometimes translated as “Ukraine Is Not Yet Lost.” A chorus of voices joined in, with some of those gathered shedding tears. Passing vehicles honked their horns in apparent support of the cause.

Soon after, the sound of the rally was drowned out by Santa Monica’s usual crowd of buskers grooving to reggae music.

Anton Shelest, a 30-year-old Ukrainian software engineer from Kyiv who is currently living and working in Irvine, held a homemade sign that read “Give Us Shelter From The Sky.” Raising his voice to be heard over the boombox blasting steel drum beats, Shelest echoed Olga’s request that American citizens write to their senators and congressional representatives to demand the United States military initiate a no-fly zone over Ukraine.

“I’m sure, if you close the sky, Ukraine will never surrender. I’m sure of that,” Shelest said.

“We completely understand that it’s not possible to send troops to Ukraine. We understand that. We don’t want Americans to die for Ukraine,” Shelest said. “But what Americans really can do is help us protect the sky.”

He also said U.S. citizens should request the American military provide Ukraine with anti-missile and anti-aircraft weapons right away, adding that if those weapons are not provided soon, this weekend could become “the catastrophe of the 21st century.”

Shelest said he had been living in the United States on a work visa for a little over two-and-a-half years, but that he had been in contact with his family still living in Ukraine. He told stories of those he knew in Kyiv, including children, fleeing to subway stations several times a day to avoid missile blasts. He said he and his family were shocked that it had come to this in his home town of Kyiv.

emily@smdp.com