Local Ukrainians to hold vigil for Malaysian plane victims

Luba Shvayko leans over to light one of the many candles placed during a Feb. 23 ceremony to honor those who have died during the protests in Ukraine.

Philadelphia Ukrainians will hold a vigil Friday night to mourn the loss of the 298 passengers of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was shot down Thursday over eastern Ukraine near the Russian border.

"We’re going to be expressing solidarity and grief with the rest of the world over the loss of life yesterday," organizer Mary Kalyna, of Razom for Ukraine, said Friday.

Participants will gather at 7 p.m. under the Ukrainian flag at 17th Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway for the rally, which is being coordinated by Razom and the Ukrainian Human Rights Committee.

Depending on the turnout, they may walk down the Parkway and pay their respects to the flags of the Netherlands and of Malaysia, Kalyna said.

Marchers will call for a full and impartial investigation into the passenger jet crash and demand that those responsible be held accountable.

"This is an international issue," Kalyna said. "It’s not a Ukrainian issue, it’s not a Malaysian issue; it’s an international issue, an international crisis."

President Barack Obama on Friday said the U.S. believes the jet traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down by a surface-to-air missile launched from an area of Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian separatists.

Obama said such an attack would not be possible without sophisticated equipment and training and suggested that support may be coming from Russia.

Ukraine’s security services have produced what they claim to be two intercepted telephone conversations that point to the involvement of Russian-backed militants, according to the Associated Press, which was unable to independently verify those recordings.

Separatist pro-Russia rebels and the Russian government have denied shooting the plane down, the Associated Press reports. The Russian government has also denied backing the rebels, according to the AP.

Obama and other world leaders on Friday called for an immediate cease-fire in eastern Ukraine so international investigators can quickly access the crash site.

Unrest in the Ukraine has been growing since November, when protests erupted over then-President Viktor Yanukovych’s rejection of a trade agreement with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia.

The country’s parliament voted to oust Yanukovych in February.

Russia in March annexed the Crimean Peninsula in southern Ukraine, as pro-Russian separatists began occupying government buildings in eastern portions of the country.

Kalyna said protesters in Philadelphia will be calling on the international community to put a stop to the turmoil.

"It’s been going on far too long and there have been too many deaths, both of military personnel and of civilians in eastern Ukraine," she said. "We were afraid that things were going to get to some crisis stage. I think we saw that yesterday."

Contact Alex Wigglesworth at 215-854-2305 or awigglesworth@philly.com. Follow @phila_lex on Twitter.

Contact the Breaking News Desk at 215-854-2443; BreakingNewsDesk@philly.com. Follow @phillynews on Twitter.