Winnipeggers watch upheaval in Ukraine, city lowers flags

The Ukrainian, Canadian and municipal flags at Winnipeg's city hall have been lowered to half-mast to acknowledge the violence in Ukraine.
The Ukrainian, Canadian and municipal flags at Winnipeg's city hall have been lowered to half-mast to acknowledge the violence in Ukraine. 2:04

The Ukrainian, Canadian and municipal flags at Winnipeg's city hall have been lowered to half-mast to acknowledge the violence in Ukraine.

The mayor's office says the flags will remain that way until sundown on Sunday.

The images coming from the Eastern European country are disturbing, said Mayor Sam Katz, adding his thoughts are with Winnipeggers who have family in the Ukraine.

"Hard would not be the appropriate word — very difficult to watch what's going on and then be told by authorities that it's the protesters fault, yeah very difficult to stomach to say the least," he said.

Ukraine's capital city, Kyiv, has been in chaos this week as anti-government protesters clash with riot police. The violence has left at least 25 dead and 241 injured.

The current situation is the worst in nearly three months of protests, which began after President Viktor Yanukovych pulled out of a planned trade pact with the European Union, deciding instead to accept closer ties with Russia and a Kremlin bailout for his heavily-indebted economy.

The result is a nation divided in loyalties between Russia and the West, and bloody confrontations that have paralyzed Kyiv.

Winnipeggers are watching the crisis in horror as Western powers have called on Yanukovych  to withdraw his troops. Canada has "unequivocally" condemned the violence and provided shelter for handful of protesters inside the Canadian
Embassy in Kyiv.

"Indiscriminately killing and assuming power and abusing people, it's unreal," said Bill Balan, a vice-president at the University of Winnipeg, which has partnered with universities in Ukraine.

"The situation is worsening and I think … what you're seeing is the beginning of a civil war."

He said it's shocking to watch a country that had been working on democratic reforms since gaining independence in 1991 suddenly fall apart.

"It's absolutely tragic, and I mean it's just unthinkable. I don't think anybody here would have thought that this would have ever turned this way," Balan said.

"I guess it just shows how fragile democratic rights and freedoms really are."

Ukrainian-Winnipegger may join fight

Andrii Shcherbukha immigrated from Ukraine to Winnipeg more than two years ago.

Now, he’s watching and waiting for word from his loved ones he left behind.

“The most difficult part is that I’m not there,” he said. “It’s really hard. I worry of course about my friends there, and my family because you never know what’s going to happen.”
Ukrainian-born Winnipegger Andrii Shcherbukha may head to the country to despite the ongoing crisis. (Jill Coubrough/CBC)

Shcherbukha’s parents, sisters and friends are all in Ukraine, and so far, he said, they are safe.

“What’s happening right now is a new nation being formed, but it’s not worth death,” he said.

Still, he said he may join his family and friends in the country.

“They need people like me right now,” he said.

Oksana Bondarchuk of Manitoba’s Ukrainian Canadian Congress is raising money for protesters.

She said they are in dire need of food, housing and medical supplies after many shelters were torched.

“We’re outraged. We’re appalled,” she said. “These people have very little to lose. They don’t want to go back to being oppressed in their country.”

The congress is meeting Wednesday night to discuss fundraising efforts.