December 3, 2022

Protesters in Sunny Isles Beach, FL, stage a rally on Friday, Feb. 25, to denounce the unprovoked Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Photo: Ken Kurson for the Media Globe)

Sunny Isles Beach trades paradise for politics

Protesters in Sunny Isles Beach, FL, stage a rally on Friday, Feb. 25, 2022, to denounce the unprovoked Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Photo: Ken Kurson for the Media Globe)

NORTH MIAMI BEACH—A large-scale anti-war rally pulled together over the last 48 hours was held Friday afternoon in the heart of North Miami’s beach community, where until days ago, large numbers of Russian and Ukrainian expats lived as peaceful neighbors.

Press play to hear a narrated version of this story, presented by AudioHopper.

Gateway Park in Sunny Isles Beach is normally a serene vacation spot just across Miami’s Tony Collins Avenue from the pristine Miami shoreline. But with thousands of Russians and at least several hundred Ukrainians now calling the area home—and vacationing here during the long Eastern European winter—the awful events taking place on all of our TV screens right now shattered the area’s calm and revealed some painfully raw emotions.

One attendee, Yulia, told The Media Globe that the reason she had showed up at the park was because it was all she could do to show support to her relatives who are seeking shelter right now in Ukraine. “The world is just watching. Putin doesn’t care about your sanctions,” she said as she began to cry. The Globe mentioned how hard it is to wrap one’s head around what’s happening — in this area Russians and Ukrainians eat at the same restaurants and until just days ago were happy to be described by those not from the region as one people. Yulia said through tears. “That used to be true. But younger generation is 90% done with Russian language.” Asked if she thought most of the protesters were those with Ukrainian family members or ordinary antiwar protesters, she replied that it’s both.

A young partisan joins the protest in Gateway Park in Sunny Isles Beach, FL, Feb. 25, 2022. (Photo: Ken Kurson for the Media Globe)

The demonstration attracted a strong police presence as the small town of Sunny Isles Beach were clearly concerned that international tensions could spill over. The town’s mayor, Dana Goldman, was also spotted at the rally.

Another attendee explained to the Globe his contempt for the sanctions. “They will take at least 30 days to feel any pain, and by then Putin will have it all.” He continued, “As for energy sanctions, they actually help Russia. When oil was $50 a barrel, Putin wouldn’t have dared alienate that cash flow. At $100 a barrel, he doesn’t care who promises not to buy from him, because with oil at $100, there will always be someone in the market who is happy to pay $95.”

As news trickled out that President Biden decided this afternoon to impose sanctions directly on Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the same observer scoffed. “This is fihnya,” using the Ukrainian word for bullshit. “Putin doesn’t care about visiting Disney World.”

The media angle here is that Miami is one of the few cities where the local evening news often has more international reporting than the typical “if it bleeds it leads plus weather” stuff most of America gets at 6 PM. That’s because 56.6% of Miami residents were born outside of the US, compared to the national average of 13.7%. At least five local stations—Univison, Channel 4 (CBS), Channel 10 (ABC), Channel 6 (NBC) and Telemundo—attended the rally and had full camera and sound packages.

Many of the protesters carried signs with specific policy asks, including the removal of Russia from the SWIFT banking system or the enforcement of a no-fly zone over Ukrainian air.

Asked how the latter could even be enforced, one rally attendee referred to American technology and air supremacy. One can only imagine, however, the repercussions for the world if an American fighter jet shot down a Russian fighter jet. As it stands, they are battling in the streets of Kiev, and it’s getting harder to imagine this ending without the kind of massive bloodshed and reshaping of a world order that has stood since 1945.

Another attendee, Helena, carried a sign asking for the expulsion of Russia from the SWIFT bank clearing system. But she told the Globe what the country really needs is a no-fly zone. The Globe asked what how that could work and whether it wouldn’t lead to an even larger conflict, and Helena cited the example of Israel.

“We want like Israel, to shelter our skies, because we know that our military is very strong on the ground, but of course Russian military and they have too much time to prepare for the war so in the air they are very strong. That’s why we are asking for help to the NATO.”

Helena told the Globe she is actually visiting Miami Beach from Ukraine and is now trapped here. “I’m here for vacation and this is a real shock for me because I can’t now return to my country. All flights are delayed.”

With President Biden having already unequivocally ruled out any direct military action, it’s unclear what pressure can be applied, even as the American public seems uncharacteristically united in its disgust for Putin’s shocking and unconscionable aggression against a neighboring state.

Meanwhile, supporters of Ukraine here on the white sand beaches of Miami can do nothing but wave blue and yellow signs.

Protesters in Sunny Isles Beach, FL, Feb. 25, 2022. Yulia, pictured holding the sign calling for Russia to be expelled from SWIFT, said, ‘The world is just watching. Putin doesn’t care about your sanctions.’ (Photo: Ken Kurson for the Media Globe)