British Columbia

Ukrainian-Canadians living in B.C. worry about family back home

Ukrainian-Canadians living in B.C. say the country needs help resisting the Russian invasion.

Ukrainian-Canadians are calling upon other nations for help as Russia invades

A child holds a sign during a rally by members of the Ukrainian community at the Vancouver Art Gallery on Feb. 24, 2022. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

"It was a sobering wake up call." 

Father Mykhailo Ozorovych, the pastor of the Holy Eucharist Cathedral in New Westminster, was not worried about his family in Ukraine a few weeks ago when Russia was building up its forces in the region, because they lived far from the conflict zone.

Then, a bomb hit the Ivano-Frankivsk airport Thursday morning, less than five kilometres from where Ozorovych's parents live. 

"I thought my city is so far from where Russia is and from the border, and now just a couple of weeks later I was wrong. The invasion did happen," Ozorovych said in an interview with Stephen Quinn on CBC's The Early Edition

Ozorovych is one of a number of Ukrainian-Canadians living in B.C. who are worried about relatives living in Ukraine, following the Russian invasion.

At 29, he is one of the youngest pastors of a Ukrainian church in Canada. His father, who is retired and living in Ukraine, is offering his services as a soldier in defence of his homeland.

"That's courage, that's calmness. There are hundreds of thousands of those across Ukraine now reporting to their local military units." 

Explosions were reported in several cities in Ukraine after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a series of unprovoked attacks by land, sea and air late Wednesday night. 

A senior U.S. defence official described it as the largest conventional military attack in Europe since the Second World War.

Members of the Ukrainian community rallied at the Vancouver Art Gallery on Feb. 24, 2022 to denounce Russia's invasion of Ukraine. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Tamara Krawchenko, who is an assistant professor in the school of public administration at the University of Victoria, is also worried about her family in Ukraine. 

Krawchenko said her sister who lives in Kyiv woke up to "what sounded like bombs" that turned out to be the shelling of military buildings and the airport. 

"They were hoping to flee to the West somehow, but it is looking very chaotic."

Krawchenko said despite the attacks and further threats, Ukrainians have dealt with Russian imperialism for years and will not give up. 

"Ukrainians will fight to the death, each one of them, from babas [grandmothers] who are 80 years old to young women."

Ukrainian community rallies in B.C.

Hundreds of members of the Ukrainian community and their supporters gathered outside the Vancouver Art Gallery on Thursday afternoon to show support for their country and denounce Russia's actions. Many were draped in yellow and blue, the colours of the Ukrainian flag.

Those who spoke with CBC expressed their disgust with Putin and called on Canadian leaders and other allies to take action to end the war.

Svitlana Kominko said the situation seems more like a horror movie, and she choked up as she spoke about her 70-year-old mother still living in Ukraine.

"Putin's aggression doesn't have a place in the 21st century," Kominko said.

"I think we were too naive to think he wasn't going to do what he's doing right now. Peaceful Ukrainians are under attack. … We never imagined that after gaining our independence from the Soviet regime, we would face what we are facing right now."

Cabbage rolls are prepared at the Victoria Ukrainian Cultural Centre for a monthly food sale on Feb. 24, 2022, following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

At the Ukrainian Cultural Centre in Victoria, cooks were preparing for a monthly sale of cabbage rolls, perogies and other delicacies. This month, the surplus funds will go the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, which is launching a humanitarian support campaign.

The cultural centre's office manager, Victoria Grando, said she has family living close to the Kyiv airport and worries for their safety.

"This is devastating," she said. "We were just hoping and praying that it would never happen, but it did."

Iryna Shyroka, the president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) in Vancouver, said she was out on Wednesday at a car rally that was organized in response to Putin's statements from the day prior. 

"By the time we got home, the terrible news broke and we had learned that the Ukrainian territory has been attacked by Russian forces." 

Shyroka said her family in Ukraine was told to stay home and all schools where they live are closed. 

"They were all paralyzed. They were in shock." 

A call for help

Shyroka said the world needs to know what is happening in Ukraine. 

"We need the world to hear us and to make more strong decisions, because, unfortunately, Putin responds only to power, to strength. He doesn't do diplomacy." 

Shyroka said while Ukrainian forces have been successful so far in defending Ukrainian territory, more help from allies is needed. 

A woman holds her heart over her chest during a rally in support of the Ukrainian community at the Vancouver Art Gallery on Feb. 24, 2022. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Ozozrovych said the other nations will have to get involved for the sake of democracy. 

"It's not only our war …  they invaded part of Europe, part of an independent, democratic country. It's a global crisis. I don't think the world will be able to sit this one out." 

The UCC is hosting a rally outside the Vancouver Art Gallery at noon on Thursday and again at 1 p.m. on Saturday. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michelle Gomez is a CBC writer in Vancouver. You can contact her at michelle.gomez@cbc.ca.

With files from Joel Ballard and Mike McArthur

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