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Ukrainian-American hangs flags over I-66 in show of support

Constantin remembers growing up in Ukraine and his mother taking him to the streets to protest against the Soviet Union’s occupation of his homeland.

Those memories were at the forefront while Constantin, now an Arlington resident who works in blockchain technology, embarked on a mission.

Over the course of Monday afternoon, he hung Ukrainian and American flags side-by-side on a dozen I-66 overpasses, running east from the Falls Church area to Rosslyn.

“[I’m doing this] to express gratitude towards everything that the United States has done for Ukraine so far,” Constantin, who did not want his last name used out of safety concerns, tells ARLnow. “It’s a unifying message that represents both what America and Ukraine stand for, which is democracy and freedom.”

Since Russia invaded Ukraine last week, there has been an outpouring of support for the country internationally, across the U.S. and here in Arlington. Local officials expressed support for Ukraine immediately after the invasion and last night the County Board condemned Russia’s “unprovoked attack” on Arlington’s Ukrainian sister city, Ivano-Frankivsk.

Constantin immigrated to America in 1993 and has lived in North Arlington for about two decades, after first moving here after grad school. He’s a U.S. citizen, but has never forgotten his Ukrainian roots. Over the years, Constantin says he has continued to fundraise, support, and bring awareness to Ukraine’s fight for sovereignty. That includes pressing Congress in 2014 to pass the Ukraine Freedom Support Act.

Yesterday, as soon as he started hanging the flags on the overpasses, he saw an outpouring of support for the Ukrainian cause.

“As soon as I put the Ukraine flags up, people started honking,” Constantin says. “To me, as a Ukrainian American, it is such a positive and inspiring note of support.”

On the overpasses where there was foot traffic, people shared their words of support and some stopped to help him put up the flags.

One woman with a child in the backseat of her car even pulled up beside him to give Constantin $100 cash to “do the right thing.” He says he’ll be donating the money to Ukrainian recovery efforts.

As of this morning (Tuesday), most of the flags remained. The one on the Glebe Road overpass seemed to be gone, either blown away by the wind or taken down.

“There is a pro-Putin set of Russians in D.C. and [the] U.S., in general,” Constantin notes. Public works employees are also tasked with removing items displayed on overpasses, though it’s often a low priority.

Constantin plans to put more flags up, saying Beltway overpasses are next. He also says he’s working with a network of volunteers to send thousands of helmets to Ukraine for civilians and the military.

Constantin still has family and friends in the country that he speaks to and worries about. They are living in constant fear, he says, hearing explosions and seeing fireballs in the streets.

Though he agrees with the measures that the U.S. has taken so far against Russia, and is hopeful that this is the last time Russia will fight a war with Ukraine, he’s also realistic.

“I’m proud people are paying attention now, but fearful that eventually will become desensitized to the horror… and move on. And Russia will keep going,” Constantin says. “This is why the flags could be a reminder to continue the support.”

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