Burnaby resident watches the war in Ukraine with fear and anger
“I'm sleeping like four hours a day with two kids and no help from outside. Me and my wife, we are exhausted actually. But it's nothing compared to that exhaustion that our people in Ukraine right now are suffering from. So it doesn't matter—if I have coffee in my cup, I can proceed.”
Andriy Mitnovych may live in Burnaby, but his mind and heart are a world away right now.
Mitnovych moved here from Ukraine just two years ago. His family and friends are all back home.
But home has become a war zone. Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a full scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb 24. Hundreds of civilians have already died amid heavy shelling and missile strikes on major cities.
Now, in Burnaby, the father of two has begun what feels like a second job.
Every day, he and other local Ukrainian-Canadians are doing what they can, and what they feel they must, to put pressure on Putin to call off the war. They’re organizing near daily gatherings to protest the violence, pushing Canadian politicians and the government to enact harsh and swift sanctions on Russia, and even pushing large businesses to enact pressure in their own ways.
“There’s a lot of things that we can do right now. We are sending a lot of money—I know, at least my closest guys here from Ukraine, they’re sending like $1,000 each day … for our defenders,” Mitnovych told the Beacon.
“I’m sleeping like four hours a day with two kids and no help from outside. Me and my wife, we are exhausted actually. But it’s nothing compared to that exhaustion that our people in Ukraine right now are suffering from. So it doesn’t matter—if I have coffee in my cup, I can proceed.”
Mitnovych has friends and family all over Ukraine. So far, everyone is thankfully safe. The region in western Ukraine, where his in-laws live, is mostly calm for now, and people there have an easier time of getting to the border and getting out of the country if they want to.
His friends in Kyiv are more tired than anything, going back and forth into bomb shelters with air raid sirens regularly ringing through the sky.
His parents and sister are in their family village near Poltava—“fairly close to military forces and military actions.” It’s still safer to be in a smaller village right now, Mitnovych said, but he still wishes his parents would try and leave their homes to head for safety.
“My mom and my dad, they are pretty old. And they cannot resist, at least effectively, if they are forced. So I advised them to leave the country while they could. But my dad is strong, and they stayed in place,” he said.
“And he’s actually right now in the defense. Well, I’m proud of course. But for me, of course, it would be better if they could leave.”
Mitnovych’s father is one of thousands in Ukraine deciding not to evacuate, or even leaving the safety of the European Union to come back home and fight the invading Russian troops.
That’s one of the symptoms of a sudden unification of opinion in Ukraine. Mitnovych said part of the reason for that is the leadership of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy—who’s garnered international praise for his handling of the invasion.
Zelenskyy, who has told Ukrainians that he is under considerable danger of assassination, rejected an American offer of evacuation to safety.
“I need ammunition, not a ride,” he told the United States.
Mitnovych said that’s a resilience that all Ukrainians plan on showing, no matter how long the war continues on for—although he acknowledges many lives will be lost in the process.
“Russians are never gonna hold the country. They are never gonna hold our guys from resisting. There will also always be guerrilla wars, underground wars. … And it will continue right now,” he said.
“And right now we are stronger actually, because the whole of Ukraine is united for now.”
Mitnovych doesn’t see the conflict ending anytime soon, unfortunately. He thinks it will evolve into a much longer dispute, because while Ukrainian forces have fared better than Putin likely expected, they are still outnumbered and can only defend against Russian troops, rather than launching counter-attacks.
The only hope to actually end the war, he thinks, is to let Russia know that they are completely isolated with economic and other sanctions.
Sitting in safety in Burnaby, as his homeland faces peril, Mitnovych says he’s feeling a whirlwind of emotions. But one emotion, at the moment, is coming out on top.
“I am angry. I’m really angry, and my eyes are wet all the time, … thinking about the situation when I can help only [in a] limited [way]. I cannot throw Molotov cocktails, I cannot shoot right now. But they do that right now. Everyone—men, women, they’re all fighting for freedom,” he said.
“And I cannot help, and this is getting worse and worse. And as [the Russians] are advancing, my anger is advancing also. … The good thing is that this anger gives me a little bit of additional adrenaline, which I can use to help.”