Supervisor Das Williams (right) gave a speech at the Rally for Ukraine on Monday, February 28. | Credit: Carl Perry

As many as 700 people — many sporting the blue and yellow colors of the Ukrainian flag — assembled in front of the Santa Barbara County Courthouse’s monumental stone archway this Monday at noon to protest Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It was the second such protest in the past four days. On Saturday, about 250 assembled in front of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art on State Street. 

Credit: Carl Perry

“We are all Ukrainians,” proclaimed former state senator Hannah-Beth Jackson. Of Russian strongman Vladimir Putin — who launched the assault last week on the pretext of “de-Nazifying” Ukraine — Jackson said, “Let’s face it: The man is a thug. He is evil.” 

While protesters found themselves braving an unseasonably warm day with temperatures in the eighties, several speakers reminded those in attendance that people in Ukraine were being forced to brave bombing runs and shelling assaults. Christo Artusio, who helped organize Monday’s rally, noted that people in Ukraine may not be able to take such protests — or their freedom of speech — for granted much longer. Ukraine, he said, was the last bastion of democracy among the breakaway republics that once were part of the USSR. Putin, he said, is determined to “get the old band back together.” It’s democracy, he stated, that Putin fears.

Artusio — a Santa Barbara native who spent 15 years working for the State Department — lives in Kyiv with his wife, Tatyana Taruta. They were scheduled to fly back to Kyiv — where they run a thriving and sprawling investment business that runs the gamut from gene-sequencing equipment to movie theater chains — on March 6. The war drastically upended their travel arrangements. They also had relatives from Ukraine visiting them for Taruta’s birthday. They implored them to stay. They declined and now find themselves trapped back home.

Artusio said machine gun fights had broken out in their neighborhood in Kyiv. “It’s about as close from where we live as the Hotel California is from Bud Bottoms’s dolphin fountain,” he explained.

Credit: Carl Perry

Taruta — whose father serves in Ukraine’s parliament — said she has a brother-in-law who goes out armed with a gun searching for Russians to fight. Her friends and colleagues back home are embroiled in the war effort. She calls constantly. Cell phone communications remain mercifully open. When she connects, she hears shells exploding and jets flying overhead. If no one answers, she is seized by worry. To date, no one in her family has been hurt. But that can change.

Advancing on Kyiv is a Russian convoy, reportedly since bogged down by rain and mud, said to be 40 miles long. Russian troops have deployed cluster bombs; these are among the most indiscriminate explosives when it comes to differentiating civilians from armed soldiers. And then, of course, Putin has activated Russia’s arsenal of nuclear weapons. Questions of his mental stability have sparked a chilling cottage industry among western diplomats and military experts. To date, estimates about the death toll are all over the map. As many as 4,500 Russian soldiers may have been killed, as well as 350 Ukrainians.

Both Taruta and her husband, Artusio, spoke highly of economic sanctions and powerful moral support, but more is needed, she said.

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“They can’t fight tanks and jets with a gun,” she said. 

Credit: Carl Perry

She said the $350 million in military aid the United States has approved for Ukraine is wonderful. But Egypt gets $1.4 billion, she noted, “and they’re not a democracy.” Israel gets twice that.

Santa Barbara Congressmember Salud Carbajal sits on the House Armed Services Committee, which is now considering a supplemental appropriation of $6.4 billion — part for military assistance and part for humanitarian aid — requested last Friday by President Joe Biden. Carbajal said he supports this request for assistance, adding that it enjoys bipartisan support. 

“I expect us to advance additional funding to support the people of Ukraine and out allies in the region within the next week,” he said in a prepared statement. During an interview with Independent reporter Jun Starkey over the weekend, Carbajal described Putin as “an outright bully,” adding, “You have to let bullies know they are consequences.”

Certainly, the international financial blockade — with $400 billion in Russian reserves now frozen in American banks — had had some impact; the value of the ruble has dropped in relation to other currencies, making the price of foreign goods significantly more expensive. Average Russians will feel the pinch, Carbajal said, “which is going to make [Putin] a pariah. His own country is not going to appreciate it, and hopefully they will expel him as their leader.” 

To the extent Putin was motivated to attack Ukraine by his concern over a reinvigorated NATO with a stronger presence closer to Russia, it would appear he’s helped make that a self-fulfilling prophecy. Finland and Sweden — which share borders with Russia — are now seeking NATO membership for the very first time. Switzerland has forsaken its centuries-old policy of strict neutrality and has joined the financial blockade imposed by members of the European Union. Germany, likewise, has broken with its strict policy to never sell or send weapons to another country, sending 1,000 anti-tank missiles and 500 surface-to-air missiles to the Ukrainian military.

Helping put Monday’s rally together was County Supervisor Das Williams, a close childhood friend of Artusio; and prominent political consultant Mary Rose, Artusio’s stepmother. Williams and Artusio went to grade school together. Artusio helped negotiate the Paris Climate Accord in 2015. It was while doing so he met his wife, then helping the Ukrainian government.

Credit: Carl Perry

“Ukraine’s fight is our fight,” Williams declared at the rally. He described Ukraine as an imperfect democracy, “but a democracy nonetheless.” That’s why Putin is so hell-bent on making sure it doesn’t succeed. Putin’s war machine, Williams noted, was fueled with oil and gas revenues. He urged people to vote with their pocketbooks to fight Putin. 

By Monday, many people had done just that, making more than $500,000 in direct donations to Direct Relief ( — the global disaster relief organization based in Santa Barbara. Just shortly before the Russian attack, Direct Relief sent over a shipment of medical supplies worth $5.4 million and is currently processing an expanded request for medical supplies needed by those experiencing wartime trauma. This includes 500 mobile medical outreach backpacks, a medication that helps in the formation and maintenance of blood clots, and CAT-style tourniquets. It also includes insulin — 15,000 Ukrainian children reportedly suffer from type 1 diabetes, meaning they will all but certainly die without their medications.

Likewise, ShelterBox, another international assistance organization with a Santa Barbara branch, is deploying a team of security, safety, and logistics experts to assess the needs on the ground for neighboring nations now accepting refugees. These include Poland, Romania, and Moldavia. According to recent estimates, as many as 660,000 Ukrainian refugees have since sought shelter in neighboring counties. Depending on the lengthy and intensity of the war, the humanitarian crisis could disrupt the delivery of basic necessities for as many as 12 million people.

ShelterBox focuses less on medical supplies and more on the rudiments of makeshift shelter and has on hand a ready inventory of super-thick blankets, solar-powered lights, tents, water purifiers, tools, and tents. It, too, is accepting donations through its website (

Monday’s rally was both solemn and festive and promises to be one of many still to come; another was announced for this Saturday. Santa Barbara City Councilmember Oscar Gutierrez was holding a pro-Ukrainian sign adorned with script that he subsequently learned included an F-bomb directed at Russia. A troupe of folk dancers performed the Ukrainian national dance, described as a “vivacious” number. They also performed a slower, more melancholic dirge. Cars and trucks honked in support as they whizzed by. 

Many people spoke at Monday’s rally, some with thick Ukrainian or Russian accents. One young man sang a moving rendition of “Ave Maria.” 

Several Franciscan brothers from the Mission — including Father Larry — spoke in solidarity with the Ukrainians. “Your broken hearts are our broken hearts,” he said. “May peace be to Ukraine.”

District Attorney Joyce Dudley became verklempt describing how her grandfather emigrated from Ukraine as a young boy to escape the anti-Jewish Russian pogroms of 1900. In New York City, he collected and sold rotten fruit by night and sewed old socks by day. When he saved enough money, he brought his parents and other relatives to the United States. 

Dudley welled up, saying, “It’s happening again.” Women and children, she said, were being slaughtered. “I’m so sorry, poppy,” she said, as if speaking to her grandfather. “I’m so sorry.”

Editor’s Note: This story was updated on 3/1/22 to include additional information.

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