Canadians fear for safety of loved ones amid Russian invasion of Ukraine

Canadians with ties to Ukraine feared for the safety of their friends and family there Thursday, as Russia pushed forward with a wide-ranging invasion — quickly condemned by many world leaders — that saw cities and military bases hit by airstrikes.

Concern for family members, friends who must contend with what comes next

Members of the Ukrainian community rally at the Vancouver Art Gallery in support of Ukraine following news of Russia's invasion on Thursday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Canadians with ties to Ukraine feared for the safety of their loved ones Thursday as Russia pushed forward with a wide-ranging invasion — quickly condemned by many world leaders — that saw cities and military bases hit by airstrikes.

Scores of Ukrainians were killed, with President Volodymyr Zelensky stating in a video address that 137 people had died. More than 300 others were wounded.

An estimated 100,000 Ukrainians were believed to have fled their homes or have been uprooted by the invasion, according the UN Refugee Agency.

Amid the chaos, Canada urged all of its citizens in Ukraine to exit the country or to shelter in place if that wasn't possible.

People take part in a Edmonton rally in support of Ukraine on Thursday. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

"Your safety and security are now our top priority," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday.

The spectre of an invasion had been looming for some time, escalating in recent weeks as Western leaders and officials warned an attack by Russia was likely imminent.

'They're scared' 

Those in Canada with friends and family in Ukraine could think of little else on Thursday as they watched news reports and took in the dire information about the Russian invasion.

Pharmacist Andrew Panshyn, who lives in Fort Simpson, N.W.T., said the events of Thursday marked "the worst day in my life so far."

With his father, his wife's parents and many friends in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, Panshyn said he was finding it all "devastating."

PHOTOS | People hide, flee in Ukraine, as cities fall under attack by Russia: 

Rev. Mykhailo Ozozrovych, pastor of the Holy Eucharist Cathedral in New Westminster, B.C., said he learned Thursday that a bomb had hit Ivano-Frankivsk International Airport — less than five kilometres from where his 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," Ozozrovych told CBC's The Early Edition. "The invasion did happen."

Supporters of Ukraine gather near Toronto's City Hall on Thursday in the wake of the massive military operation Russia launched against its neighbour. (Nick Lachance/Reuters)

Earlier Thursday, Nadiya Butt-Velychko of Harbour Grace, N.L., was hearing updates from family about the attacks in Ukraine — including in the area where her mother lives, near Hostomel Airport.

"She just sent me a video — helicopters, planes, missiles just going above [her] roof," Butt-Velychko told CBC News. "She can hear bombing, and her house is just shaking."

Oksana Gerych worried about her elderly parents in the Ukrainian city of Lviv.

"They're scared," said Gerych, a Montreal resident. "But my mom said, 'Don't worry; don't panic. We will do whatever we supposed to do, and we just pray and hope everything will be fine.'"

People take part in a rally in Halifax showing support for Ukraine and opposition for Russia's invasion. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

In Canada, members of the Ukrainian community gathered in various cities Thursday — from Halifax to Vancouver — to denounce the invasion and to call on Ottawa to help.

They waved blue and yellow Ukrainian flags and held placards decrying Russia and its actions.

Among a group of protesters at McGill University in Montreal, Larysa Grynko warned what could happen in the future if Russia was not stopped now.

"It will not stop in Ukraine," said Grynko, who came to Canada from Ukraine in 2011. "It will go further, aggressing other countries."

The U.S. Embassy in Ottawa tweeted that it would be "lit in blue and yellow" on Thursday evening, in a show of support for Ukraine. In Toronto, the CN Tower was doing the same thing.

'It breaks my heart'

In London, Ont., Volodymyr Vorobets said Canadians need to pay attention to the people caught in the conflict and what they are going through.

"It's beautiful country," said Vorobets, president of the London Ukrainian Centre, whose brother, nephew and his mother-in-law live in Ukraine, "and it breaks my heart that it's being bombed."

Demonstrators are seen outside the Russian Consulate in Toronto on Thursday, reacting to the invasion of Ukraine — an action that has been quickly condemned by political leaders around the globe. (Christopher Mulligan/CBC)

The news was just as shocking and painful for Yulia Zmerzla, executive director of Winnipeg's Oseredok Ukrainian Cultural and Education Centre.

"I just can't believe my eyes," Zmerzla said.

'It's already happened'

A small group of Russians show their support for Ukraine outside Calgary's city hall on Thursday. (Mike Symington/CBC)

Natalya Spassova moved to Canada in 2003 and lives in Whitehorse today. She, too, has been jolted by what she has seen unfold.

"Everybody hoped [Russian President Vladimir Putin would not cross the border and come with [an] army. And it's already happened," Spassova said.

Saskatoon's Iryna Matsiuk worried about her Ukrainian family members and what could be done for them from so far away.

"It's a world full of emotions," Matsiuk said Wednesday, ahead of the invasion.

"On the one hand, we are very concerned about what's going to happen to our families — to Ukraine in general. And on the other hand, it's: 'What can we do here?' "

People demonstrate their support for Ukraine in front of the Russian Embassy in Ottawa on Thursday — the same day Russian forces invaded Ukraine. (Patrick Louiseize/CBC/Radio-Canada)

Borys Wrzesnewskyj, a Ukrainian-Canadian and former Liberal MP, said he'd spoken with family and friends in Ukraine who are preparing for what comes next.

"Those are difficult conversations because in some cases, you know these may be their last conversations," he told CBC News. "People are preparing to resist."

Canadian leaders condemn attack

Canada's political leaders slammed Russia's actions in Ukraine Thursday, as the prime minister announced a suite of new sanctions against Russian entities.

Trudeau said Russia's actions in Ukraine represented "a massive threat to security and peace around the world."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, shown at a news conference in Ottawa on Thursday, announced new sanctions against Russian entities following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Interim Conservative Leader Candice Bergen issued a statement saying her party "stands in solidarity with Ukraine and its people" and called the attack "despicable."

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh tweeted that Putin "has waged an unprovoked war with callous disregard for innocent human life."

Provincial leaders similarly condemned the attack on Ukraine.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said the world had watched "Vladimir Putin's war of aggression begin in Ukraine."

In Saskatchewan, Premier Scott Moe tweeted that "to those in Ukraine, and all Ukrainian-Canadians with loved ones in Ukraine, Saskatchewan stands with you."

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said on Twitter that his province also stood with Ukraine and that "the world must unite to stop this outrageous, unprovoked aggression against Ukraine."

A man is seen from behind holding a Ukrainian flag in front of a building where the Russian flag is flying.
A pro-Ukrainian supporter waves the country's flag outside the Russian Embassy in Ottawa on Thursday. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)


  • An earlier version of this story said Andrew Panshyn lives in Hay River, N.W.T. In fact, he lives in Fort Simpson.
    Feb 25, 2022 10:40 AM ET

With files from The Associated Press and The Canadian Press