Dozens of people gathered at a candlelight vigil for Ukraine Thursday night in West Des Moines.

The vigil, at the Jamie Hurd Amphitheater, was organized by the City of West Des Moines Human Rights Commission and the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

“We are heartbroken by the atrocities and the loss of life,” said Audrey Kennis, the city’s director of diversity, equity and inclusion. “We must be the voice of the voiceless. That is what we are called to do as a community.”

The West Des Moines City Council approved a proclamation declaring March 24 a Day of Solidarity with Ukraine at its Monday meeting.

“I am saddened every time I listen to the news and watch children, women and people suffer,” West Des Moines City Council member Renee Hardman said at the vigil. “We are united in our goal to say ‘peace and unity prevail’.”

Continued: As war enters second month, Iowa donates equipment to Ukraine

Valley High School students Matthew Zhuravlov and Marharyta Tataryna, both Ukrainians, spoke at the vigil about the impact of the Russian invasion on their families and friends.

“It’s really sad. The first time I heard about it, I didn’t believe it,” Zhuravlov said. “(We’re) just teenagers. We’re just people. We just want to be free. I’m worried about all my friends and all my family. I hope they’re okay.”

Continued: Ukrainian exchange student in Iowa worries about his family’s survival: ‘I just want them all to be safe’

Tataryna said she remains hopeful of joining her family in a free Ukraine soon.

“I hope this war is the last. Ukraine is strong,” Tataryna said. “I will meet (my family), we will hug and I will walk through a free Kyiv. My teenage heart and great soul are in Ukraine forever.”

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