'We're supposed to learn from history': Manitobans gather in support of Ukraine outside legislature
An estimated 2,000 people attended the rally organized by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress
On the grounds of the Manitoba legislature, Halyna Shtoyko sees reminders of a history she thought was far behind her.
There's the statue of poet Taras Shevchenko, whose works expressed a longing for justice and freedom in Ukraine. A monument of a young girl sits nearby, clutching to her chest five stalks of wheat as a symbol of the Holodomor, an artificial famine genocide that killed millions in Ukraine from 1932 to 1933.
And on Saturday evening, there were the thousands of people gathered together, holding Ukrainian flags and signs of support for the eastern European country as a Russian invasion there continued.
"We're supposed to learn from history, that we cannot let this happen again. And Ukrainians never thought that this would happen to them again," said Shtoyko, who came to Canada from Ukraine as a teenager more than 20 years ago.
"They woke up to a war on their doorsteps, and I think it's atrocious. And I think that everybody that can do anything should stand up."
Emotions ran high at the rally, where Winnipeg Police Service Staff Sgt. Bob Chrismas said police estimated there were about 2,000 people in attendance.
The gathering came as tens of thousands of Ukrainians fled their homes amid the continued Russian military attack, which began before dawn on Thursday.
"There is a lot of feeling of helplessness, and we just are trying to find clarity of what's happening with our family in Ukraine," said Daria Lukie, who helped organize the rally put on by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress Manitoba Provincial Council.
Yuliia Kravchuk, an international student from western Ukraine studying at the University of Manitoba, said she couldn't believe it at first when she saw videos of what was happening in her home country, from which she had just returned after a trip for Christmas.
And while she knows her family is happy she's safe in another country, Kravchuk said it's hard to be so far away from them during such an unpredictable time.
"I just want to hug my parents," the 18-year-old said. "I don't know when I will be able to do that now."
Also in attendance at Saturday's rally was Selkirk-Interlake-Eastman MP James Bezan, who said he was on a call earlier in the day with a dozen Ukrainian members of parliament, all getting ready to take up arms in Kyiv.
"The worst nightmare is being realized right now," he said.
"I think that for all of us as Canadians and those of us of Ukrainian heritage, this is a moment in time that we never thought we'd ever encounter. And we have to be united and resolved in making sure that this doesn't become worse than it already is."
Bezan called for Canada to take further action to help, including increased humanitarian and military aid for Ukraine, tougher sanctions on Russia, loosened travel rules for Ukrainian refugees, the return of Canadian and Russian ambassadors to their respective countries and a CRTC ban on Russian state-funded media.
"We have to have everything on the table. Everything has to be considered in how we liberate Ukraine and help them do that and fight the best fight possible," Bezan said.
For Shtoyko, Manitoba's prominent reminders of Ukraine's difficult past should be enough to make people here want to stop what's happening in the present.
"We have a beautiful human rights museum in Winnipeg. Having gone there and having heard all these speeches and displays saying, 'Never again, we will not let this happen,' it breaks my heart that we are letting this happen right now," she said, holding back tears.
"We want the world to not just look upon us and say, 'We're sorry this is happening to you.' We want the help, all the help that we can get."
With files from Alana Cole and Karen Pauls