An aerial view of about a hundred people who gathered at the Vancouver Art Gallery to show their support for Ukraine, after Russian forces invaded on Thursday. Scott Graham / Supplied

Ukrainian-Canadians rally in Vancouver, ask for strong action against Russia

Dozens gathered in Vancouver for a rally to show solidarity with Ukraine after Russian president Vladimir Putin declared war yesterday.

By Srushti Gangdev | February 25, 2022 |5:00 am

Dozens gathered at the Vancouver Art Gallery in a rally to show solidarity with Ukraine yesterday, as Russian forces launched a full invasion of the Eastern European country.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said late Thursday that at least 137 people were killed in the first full day of fighting there, where strikes and shelling rattled every major city in the country.

Many of the people who gathered in Vancouver Thursday afternoon have close ties to Ukraine—including Ukrainian Canadian Congress Vancouver branch president Iryna Shyroka, whose parents live there.

“No, they are not [okay]. I am devastated. I am heartbroken, as is everyone else in Ukraine and around the world. Because we see this huge, full scale invasion rolling out on the Ukrainian territory. We see Russia invading a democratic sovereign country and violating its borders. So yeah, it’s not okay,” Shyroka told the Beacon.

“[Wednesday] night, when the news broke, I called my parents right away… And while on the phone, I heard the sirens, ordering them to get their personal belongings and go hide in the bomb shelters. So yes, it’s quite devastating and frightening.”

Shyroka’s parents, thankfully, are still safe, although “intimidated” and keeping a careful watch on local news to find out what’s going on. They live in the western area of Ukraine, closer to Poland—although, as Shyroka said, that didn’t matter to a certain degree. Russia conducted strikes on many western cities on Thursday, including Lviv—located 70km from the Polish border—and Ivano-Frankivsk.

While there had been international rumblings of war for weeks, and indeed, months, Shyroka said Ukrainians had stayed optimistic and tried to hope for the best. You never, she said, want to believe that your home might be attacked tomorrow.

In her parents’ area, people had been preparing but were staying calm—and that was true even after the strikes began. Shyroka said in that area there had been little effect on infrastructure, stores were open, and there were no hoarding or supply shortages.

“The panic has not started and hopefully it will not in the future,” she said.

Shyroka told the Beacon that the strikes seemed to have tapered off in her parents’ area by later in the daytime on Thursday.

“But it seems that all major attacks happened in the morning. The war started at 4am. We expect another wave of attacks the next morning.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin declared war in a televised address to the nation just before 6am local time (5am in Ukraine), with strikes beginning just minutes later and while he was still talking. The news broke here in BC around 7pm on Wednesday.

“Ukrainians of Vancouver obviously couldn’t sleep last night. Every single Ukrainian poured to the streets to show their support and to show how much they’re against what’s going on in Ukraine,” Shyroka said.

In the morning, the community headed to the art gallery to stand together.

“We have more than 100 people waving their flags, holding signs with ‘Stop Putin’, ‘Stop war’… We would like to show the world, Canada, and the Vancouver community that we do not sleep, this is not okay. And we would not accept it. We will fight till the end no matter where we are. And we will support our Ukrainian military forces from any end of the world.”

The invasion has been met with strong condemnation and sanctions from nearly every major Western nation in the world.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada would launch sanctions against 58 Russian individuals and entities, including major banks and a paramilitary organization known as the Wagner Group. Ottawa is also sanctioning members of the Russian Security Council and has cancelled all existing export permits for Russia.

That’s in addition to measures announced earlier this week, which banned Canadians from conducting financial dealings with the separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. Putin has expressed support for those regions’ independence from Ukraine and used that support to justify the invasion. Canada has also sent additional troops to Latvia to boost a NATO presence in the region.

Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland both issued harsh condemnations of Putin’s action on Thursday.

“Today, he cements his place in the ranks of the reviled European dictators who caused such carnage in the 20th century,” Freeland said.
Shyroka told the Beacon, however, that while Ukrainian-Canadians are thankful for the support thus far, Canada needs to do more.

“It’s been great news, but obviously, it’s not enough to stop Putin. He has his own plans. What we need to do, and we are looking forward to seeing this action from the world community, is to pose more economical and personal sanctions against Russian leaders and Russian oligarchs, we need to exclude Russia from all the international communities and associations,” she said.

“And also, we need military support as much as possible, because the Ukrainian army is strong, but it’s much smaller than the Russians. And we are not the same as what we used to be in 2014.

The country is now preparing itself for a full invasion of the capital, Kyiv. Men aged 18-60 have been banned from leaving the country and Zelenskiy has declared martial law and activated general mobilization—calling in reservists and conscripts to defend the nation.

Zelenskiy, in a televised speech Thursday evening, called for greater military support as well from Ukraine’s allies.

“We’re alone for defense of our country. Who will fight along with us now? To be honest, I see no one,” he said according to a translation posted by journalist Alec Luhn on Twitter.

And while Shyroka told the Beacon that Ukrainians were hopeful before that the conflict could be solved without bloodshed, she’s not optimistic anymore—unless the rest of the world promises “strong action”, and follows through.

“Really strong action must happen to stop that war. Because all the diplomacy didn’t work with Putin. It never works. Putin reacts only to power, to strength, he doesn’t do diplomacy. He doesn’t do truth,” she said.

“He doesn’t believe in that. He lies, he’s a bully, and he’s a criminal. And he has to be stopped in a very hard, powerful way.”

Srushti Gangdev

Reporter at Burnaby Beacon

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