A large crowd gathered around the Woodstock Village Green Sunday, March 6, in support of the Ukrainian people, taking advantage of unseasonably warm weather to hold signs discouraging war and standing in solidarity with the people of the democratic nation being invaded by Russia. They sang John Lennon’s “Imagine” and recited poetry, while waiving to motorists who honked in support.
The gathering was organized by Woodstock Human Rights Commission Chair Anula Courtis and face behind Upstate Reggae, Leah Boss.
Amongst those who gathered was John Gotman, who has family in Ukraine. “I honor you and I thank you from my heart and the Ukrainian people thank you,” said Gotman, who was giving an update on the situation to the crowd. His given name is Iohan, but he goes by John for simplicity. “I’m so used to seeing the drummers here, but this is so far beyond the drummers. Bless you all and give you peace and unity and prosperity.” The crowd cheered when Gotman told them the United States is negotiating with Poland to send Soviet-era fighter jets to Ukraine because that is what the pilots are familiar with flying. Several news outlets had reported during the day that such negotiations are ongoing.
Gotman said his mother was a radio celebrity in Upstate New York and hosted a program called “Ukrainian Melodies” for 40 years. “So I’m probably more Ukrainian than most Ukrainians, because I know the traditions and songs,” he said. “My mom’s family is from Kyiv. My father’s family from Uman and I still have family there.”
Gotman said was trying to get his family to Poland and lost contact with them. He lives in Manhattan but owns a house in Shandaken. He decided to drive through Woodstock on his way back from grocery shopping and happened upon the gathering.
“I couldn’t believe it. I turned and it was mind-blowing, you know,” he said. “I parked my truck, I came out here and it was fantastic.”
Gotman said he has seen a paradigm shift in the world because of the people who are supporting Ukraine. “It shows what people can do when there’s unity. It’s an example to our country that we have to get it together. If we don’t, we’re going to go the opposite way. This event has changed the world,” he said.
Gotman noted the Ukrainian people have always been peaceful. “They never took anything. They live in peace, live in harmony. They’re extremely hospitable in in their culture and tradition,” he said. “If a person came to your home and they needed a place to stay, you would invite them into your home, you would feed them and you would give them the best bed in your home. That’s part of our tradition and our culture,” Gotman said. “Imagine a military force beyond imagination, coming to Woodstock, and shooting up the town. And then imagine that all the townspeople defended Woodstock instead of running away to Manhattan.”
Courtis, who co-organized the event, is Polish and attended Ukrainian schools through the Eighth Grade, spending summers in Poland with her grandparents and parents while parts of it were under Soviet control. “My grandfather would take me by the hand we’d go to get food. You’d have to stop to let the tanks go. You don’t dare walk as they go by because they’d get out of the tanks.”
Seeing the events unfold in Ukraine is “very close to home” for Courtis.
“Another generation of little kids are going to be kids of war for nothing,” she said. “The world is in a war none of us want but we’re going to be in it.”
Courtis said she couldn’t sleep a few nights ago when Russians shelled the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in the southeastern city of Enerhodar. “I thought I might wake up and Europe might be gone,” she said.