Arizona's Ukrainian and Iranian communities join voices to protest tyranny

By Phil Latzman
Published: Friday, March 3, 2023 - 10:08am

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Iranians and Ukrainians protest together in downtown Scottsdale
Phil Latzman/KJZZ
Iranians and Ukrainians protest together in downtown Scottsdale.

There’s an old expression that goes: “Yhe enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

In Arizona, those enemies may be different, but the situation in their homelands has brought them together as new friends. 

As the war in Ukraine drags on into its second year, a passionate portion of Arizona’s large Iranian American community has taken its flags, signs and voices to a busy corner near Scottsdale’s Fashion Square Mall to protest against Iran’s government.

Last Saturday, there were more than just American and green-white-red Iranian flags flying in the breeze, there were also many in blue and yellow, reflecting the much smaller but growing community of Ukrainians in the state.

Daniel, who is Iranian, was holding both.

“Everyone is supporting each other. I see Iranians holding Ukrainian flags and I see Ukrainians holding Iranian flags,” he said.    

“I see a lot of unity. [It’s] a great example of when the people unite, tyranny is destroyed.” 

Orest Jejna is a longtime member of Arizona’s Ukrainian community.

“It turns out that we really do have something in common — a common thread of keeping terrorism at bay and in that respect, we’ve galvanized with another community,” Jejna said.

Iranians and Ukrainians protest together in downtown Scottsdale
Phil Latzman/KJZZ
Iranians and Ukrainians protest together in downtown Scottsdale.

The idea to join their voices came to Oli Nevinska after she attended one of the weekly Iranian rallies that have been occurring on this corner since the suspicious death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in September, days after being arrested in Tehran for not wearing a Muslim headscarf in public.

“They showed a really powerful message and I just came down to show my support and broke down in tears because women’s rights mean so much to me as well.” 

Nevinska was born in Ukraine and most of her family remains there, caught in the cross hairs of the conflict. She says the governments may be different, but the tyranny is similar.

“Of course, we are fighting the same enemy, which is the Iranian regime In Iran as well as Russia, that we call a state sponsor of terrorism,” Nevinska said.

In a show of unity, next to her is Hasam, who believes the two groups can share their struggle. 

“The Islamic Republic and Russia is a common enemy for the people of Ukraine and the people of Iran,” he said.

We figured if we can combine our voices and combine our forces, we can hopefully bring awareness to what is going on and the crimes against humanity.”   

Nevinska is grateful for the unexpected show of support.

“No, I didn’t expect this bond to come out, but it did so very naturally,” Nevinska said. “We do appreciate the support of the Iranian community of Arizona as much as we actually provide the support towards their community as well.”      

According to the Arizona Department of Economic Security, nearly 500 people displaced from Ukraine have received services from the state’s refugee resettlement program, adding to the few hundred that were already here. That pales in comparison to an estimated 20,000 Iranian Americans in the state. Anisa, who is a student at Arizona State University, says they’re happy to lend a megaphone. 

“We’re just here to amplify our voices and what better way to do that than with our Ukrainians. We just want to let them know that we’re with them, and you know we’re all together as a team, and we hope for freedom of life, freedom of fundamental rights.”

Of this unlikely pairing in Arizona, Svetlana Martynova says it’s a great example of a modern-day melting pot.

“Never could I have thought that we would be under the same flag, Ukraine and Iran, but it reminds me of the good side of the former Soviet Union,” Martynova said. 

“There were 15 countries that otherwise would have nothing in common with each other, yet we grew up with people from every single ethnicity and background.”

Iranians and Ukrainians protest together in downtown Scottsdale
Phil Latzman/KJZZ
Iranians and Ukrainians protest together in downtown Scottsdale.

The past year has brought heartbreak for both communities. For many Ukrainians like Martynova, there is a direct link to the tragedy unfolding in her homeland.

“For decades now, people are going to have horrific reminders of what one year has done. What you can achieve in the 21st century with modern weapons in just one year. How many kids are going to grow up without parents? How many kids have died?” Martynova said.

If Vladimir Putin and Russia aren’t stopped in Ukraine, she fears the dominoes will continue to fall throughout the former Soviet Republic. 

“God forbid, Russia absorbs Ukraine, it will not stop there. It will keep going. And of the sudden, it will become a lot more expensive for the rest of the world, including the United States.” 

Both Iranian and Ukrainian protesters urge Arizonans to keep up the pressure on Congress to keep funding the war effort in eastern Europe and strengthen sanctions on Iran’s government.

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