War in Ukraine has been painful, say Russian community members in Calgary

Some Russian community members in Calgary say the last week has been filled with pain as Russia continues to invade Ukraine under President Vladimir Putin’s rule.

Many Russian Calgarians have Ukrainian background, family in Ukraine

The All Saints Russian Orthodox Church in Calgary was vandalized with red paint on the night of Feb. 26. (Radio-Canada)

Some Russian community members in Calgary say the last week has been filled with pain as Russia continues to invade Ukraine under President Vladimir Putin's rule.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine is now in its seventh day. It has been pounding civilian targets in Ukraine's second-largest city of Kharkiv, and a convoy of tanks and other vehicles continues to threaten the capital, Kyiv.

Calgarians have rallied in support of Ukraine over the last week, even calling on the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (AGLC) to ban the sale of Russian-made products.

But despite being far removed from the war in Ukraine, Calgary's Russian community is experiencing an increase in aggression due to Russia's invasion.

"The last few days, I was talking to many of our parishioners in confession and everyone — every single person — said, 'I feel shocked. I feel anxious,'" said Father Dmitry Grygoryev of the All Saints Russian Orthodox Church in Calgary.

The church was vandalized with red paint on its front doors on the evening of Feb. 26. The vandalism is currently being investigated by the Calgary Police Service's hate crimes team.

CPS says it's still unclear what motivated the vandalism.

"It wasn't pleasant news for us. We were a bit disappointed," said Grygoryev. "[I] asked them to pray for this person."

Damage to local Russian businesses

Russian Calgarian Larissa — whose last name CBC has agreed not to publish for fear of harassment and damage to her business — says she also knows people whose businesses are being damaged online, simply because they're Russian.

"Here in Calgary, I don't feel good too because of the posts about the aggression … related to us Russians," said Larissa.

Viktor Safronov, co-owner of local Russian food store Yummy Russia, says the store has been receiving threatening calls. He has also seen threatening social media posts toward Russians.

Viktor Safronov and his wife, Gamila, owners of Russian food store Yummy Russia. Both owners are Russian-Ukrainian. (Yummy Russia/Facebook)

He says people are saying all Russian products should be burned and all Russian businesses should be negatively impacted.

While business hasn't slowed down for Safronov, he says the threats are impacting the mental health of his workers.

"They're scared," said Safronov.

Many Russians in Calgary have ties to Ukraine

Grygoryev says many Russians in Calgary also have Ukrainian backgrounds, with relatives in both countries. At the church, over 30 per cent of its members are from Ukraine or have family and friends in Ukraine.

"For us, it's a double pain because we have Russian and Ukrainian background," said Grygoryev.

Larissa's grandmother is Ukrainian and her husband has relatives in Ukraine.

"The suffering there with the war, that's really hard," she said.

The same goes for Safronov, whose mother is Ukrainian and father is Russian. He says it's the same situation with his wife.

The owner of Russian food store, Yummy Russia, says business hasn't slowed down as a result of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, but the store has been receiving threatening calls. (Yummy Russia/Facebook)

As a Russian-Ukrainian who immigrated to Calgary 20 years ago, he says he doesn't understand why some people are bringing the conflict between Russia and Ukraine to Calgary, thousands of kilometres away.

He says it's important to try to coexist in Canada, despite the tragedy back home.

"I just want to say peace for every family. Every country, every family, every person," said Safronov.