Symbolic Protests Budding Near Russian Embassy


In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, mounting signs of protest are springing up all over the world. Here in the nation’s capital, Georgetown has been a particularly vibrant site of symbolic resistance to Russian aggression due to the location of the Embassy of Ukraine at 3350 M St. NW in Georgetown and the Embassy of the Russian Federation at 2650 Wisconsin Ave. NW in nearby Glover Park.

On M Street, passersby have observed each day a growing number of sympathetic lay and religious supporters, protest signs, candles and flower bouquets attracting interest and garnering empathy in front of the Ukrainian embassy.

On the sunny, springlike afternoon of Friday, March 11, The Georgetowner spoke with protesters and passersby in front of the Russian embassy to find out what was motivating the sundry gatherers.

A new official-looking “street sign” reading “President Zelensky Way” was recently mounted on a pole by the embassy’s Wisconsin Avenue entrance. One woman who wished to remain anonymous rode up on her bicycle (Ukrainian flag on display) and began tying homemade crocheted blue and yellow sunflowers to the pole. Sunflowers are the Ukrainian national flower, and blue and yellow the colors of its national flag.

Across Wisconsin Avenue, several persons began handing out flyers to sidewalk passersby and planting symbolic sunflower seeds in the sidewalk median soil.

Their flyers announced their “Wisconsin Avenue Beautification Project” from Edmund to Calvert Streets NW. Besides cleaning up trash along the strip, they were planting sunflower seeds “on the east side of the street to catch the mid-day and western sun.”

Members of the “Wisconsin Avenue Beautification Project” show up to plant sunflower seeds. The Russian embassy just happens to be across the street.

Friendship Heights resident Stephanie Kinney, a docent at Hillwood Museum, Estates and Gardens and 30-year veteran of the State Department’s Foreign Service diplomatic corps described what inspired her to launch the “beautification” initiative. “This is not against the Russian people,” she emphasized. “This is to honor the Ukrainian woman who gave the sunflower seeds to the Russian soldier in the viral video. It inspired me because I’m a docent at Hillwood and I was just so tired of talk.”

Just two nights earlier, Kinney had seen the American opera “Written in Stone” at the Kennedy Center. She said she “couldn’t sleep all night” because she was so inspired by the individual acts of consciousness leading to mass movements for positive change celebrated in the “amazing” performance.

Kinney stressed that she’s hoping others will be inspired to take up individual acts of consciousness on their own in light of recent events. “I’m not collecting money,” she said, and “people shouldn’t call me [about this.] They should simply buy sunflower seeds and plant them as a gesture. “People may have various reasons they come to plant seeds… I’m a former diplomat and have to do something diplomatic. This problem cannot be solved by guns. But, ‘people power’ all over the world, whether in Russia or in Ukraine, as is being demonstrated with the civilian protection forces…. And the people in eastern Europe opening up their homes to the millions and millions of refugees… and the elected officials using every tool and angle imaginable to try to find a way to stop the killing and the barbarity from the east.”

For Kinney, planting sunflowers is not only symbolic because they’re Ukraine’s national flower, but because they lean beautifully toward “the west” with the afternoon sun. “It’s only on the east side of the street that we’re planting because that way the sunflowers will catch the midday sun and the western sun – so “western” light!”

Marina Bühler-Miko, a friend of Kinney’s helping with the seed-planting initiative described what motivated her to join in the “beautification project.” She described the situation in Ukraine as “terrible” because Putin’s army was “killing people and flattening cities.” She fears that Russia will resort to chemical weapons in Ukraine. Putin’s “lies and the perpetration of these lies are just so incredible,” she said.

Local volunteer of the “Wisconsin Avenue Beautification Project,” Marina Bühler-Miko planting sunflower seeds across from the Embassy of the Russian Federation behind her.  Photo by Chris Jones.

One neighbor passed by on a walk with her dog. She had put up an American flag on their home nearby. Many other neighbors were also displaying signs of support for Ukraine on their doors and windows – all visible to Russian diplomats driving on Wisconsin Ave. each day. When asked if she were sympathetic to Ukraine following the invasion, she said “Of course. Who wouldn’t be? I mean they’re our fellow humans and I feel really horrible for them. I’ve been watching a lot of the news and my heart just aches for them.”

Wisconsin Ave. home near Russian embassy displays balloons with Ukrainian colors. Photo by Chris Jones.

Another passerby, Michael Pinland, visiting Georgetown from Wilmington, North Carolina, said he found the “human rights travesties just heartbreaking.” He said, “It’s hard to watch and process. It’s one of those things that becomes overwhelming. And my heart just goes out to the Ukrainians. And to hear of things like the senseless bombing of the maternity ward in the hospital…. I mean, war is never good, but obviously there are rules of engagement.”

His friend Devon Speaks, also from Wilmington, North Carolina, was persuaded to stop and plant some sunflower seeds as well. “I am absolutely in support of the Ukrainian people because it’s important that they know there are people who support them, people behind them, and people willing to come to their aid,” he said.

 

Devon Speaks of Wilmington, North Carolina, is persuaded to plant a sunflower seed across the street from the Russian embassy. Photo by Chris Jones.

 

“Sunflower Strong,” wrote Stephanie Kinney to The Georgetowner, captioning this picture taken in the days following the interview. Photo by  Sarah Ascenbach courtesy Stephanie Kinney.

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2 comments on “Symbolic Protests Budding Near Russian Embassy”

  • Tracy Siani says:

    Thank you, Christopher, for your calm and loving reporting on the outpouring of support for the Ukrainians plight in our Nation’s Capitol. We are all impinged by the destruction of other’s freedoms.

  • Christopher Jones says:

    Thank you so very much, Tracy! It was inspiring to come upon these very urgent and earnest protests while out on a walk. Let’s hope their messages of protecting democracy can spread far and wide!

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