Ukrainians in Winnipeg decry Russian Victory Day parade plans

Members of Winnipeg's Ukrainian community are questioning the timing and motives behind a Russian Victory Day parade scheduled for tomorrow.
Members of Winnipeg's Ukrainian community are questioning the timing and motives behind a Russian Victory Day parade scheduled for tomorrow. 2:07

Members of Winnipeg's Ukrainian community are questioning the timing of a Russian Victory Day parade scheduled for Saturday.

For the first time, a parade will be held in the Manitoba capital to commemorate Victory Day, Russia's most important secular holiday.

A key element of Russia's national identity, the holiday celebrates the country's victory over the Nazis and honours the armed forces and the millions who died during the Second World War.

This year's holiday comes as Russia is locked in the worst crisis with the West since the end of the Cold War, leading some Ukrainians in Winnipeg to wonder if Saturday's parade is more about current events than history.

Tetyana Chorny says the parade's website says black and orange striped ribbons will be given to those who attend the event, which starts at 2 p.m. outside the Manitoba Legislature.

The ribbons, known as Saint George ribbons, are a symbol of pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine, according to Chorny and other concerned Ukrainian Winnipeggers.

Tetanya Chorny, right, and several other members of Winnipeg's Ukrainian community are concerned about a Russian Victory Day parade planned for Saturday afternoon. (Genevieve Murchison/CBC)
"They're going to wear ribbons, Saint George ribbons. And in Ukraine, for Ukrainian people, it's a symbol of terrorism that's going on right now," Chorny said Friday.

Borys Martynenko said he thinks there is a more sinister reason for the ribbons.

"The separatists and the gangsters in Ukraine now, like, they use it to show that they are against…. I don't really like it. I know what it means," he said.

On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed the return of Crimea to Russia as the restoration of "historic justice" before a jubilant, welcoming crowd and amid a triumphant spectacle of warships and fighter jets.

Yet Putin's first trip to the Black Sea peninsula since its annexation in March was strongly criticized by both NATO and Ukraine's Foreign Ministry, which said it trampled on Ukraine's sovereignty and international law.

Putin's two Victory Day celebrations, which included a massive show of military muscle in the annual Red Square parade in Moscow and another in the Crimean port of Sevastopol, rubbed salt in the wounds of the interim government in Kyiv without ever once mentioning its name.

Motives behind parade questioned

Martynenko said he believes the real reason for the Victory Day parade in Winnipeg is to flaunt Putin's victory in taking over Crimea.

But Valery Dyck, a local writer who is involved in Saturday's parade, told CBC News the event is not political and has nothing to do with the current situation in Ukraine.

Dyck said the Saint George Ribbons are a sign of victory over Nazi Germany from 1945, and he's upset that the motives behind the parade are being questioned.

"Totally confused me. I'm really upset," he said in an interview.

"I'm really always trying to support the Ukrainian community, and to hear something like that is just sad news."

Dyck insisted he is not an organizer of the parade, but he did sign the required city permit for the event.

Representatives with the Russian Cultural Association of Manitoba told CBC News they have nothing to do with organizing the parade.

The Progressive Conservatives, Manitoba's opposition party, says it opposes the "upcoming pro-Russia 'Victory Day' parade" planned for Saturday.

"This parade does not pass the test of transparency and it is deeply disrespectful to the Ukrainian community in Manitoba,” Ron Schuler, the Tories' tourism, culture and heritage critic, stated in a news release.

"The PC Caucus supports the right to free expression, but we will not support, nor will we participate in this rally in any way whatsoever. This rally is being organized by anonymous individuals, and they are planning to wear a symbol that is being used by pro-Russia separatists in Ukraine, at a time when Ukrainians are fighting to keep their country intact."

Buhler Industries slammed for flying Russian flag

Chorny said she's also upset that Buhler Industries, a Winnipeg-based farm equipment manufacturer, is flying the Russian flag between the Canadian and American flags outside its Clarence Avenue plant.

The Russian flag is seen flying between the Canadian and U.S. flags outside Buhler Industries' plant on Clarence Avenue in Winnipeg on Friday. (CBC)
"[The] Russian flag is a symbol of terrorism that's going on right now in Ukraine," she said.

"When they put on the flag up, it [is] just showing how much they [are] against Ukraine, how much they disrespect us."

In March, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress in Manitoba called on the Canadian government to investigate and freeze the assets of some of Buhler Industries's Russian directors.

The Russian agricultural equipment giant Rostselmash Ltd. bought Buhler Industries in 2007 by acquiring 80 per cent of the company's common shares.

One of the company's directors is Konstantin Babkin, who is also known as the co-founder and leader of Russia's Action Party, a group known for its support of the Kremlin.

Two other company directors, Yury Ryazanov and Dmitry Udras, are members of the party as well.

Babkin was videotaped at a recent rally in Moscow, applauding Putin's recent actions in Ukraine and saying, "We should not stop at Crimea."

A Buhler Industries spokesperson told CBC News by email that the Russian flag has been flying outside the plant since 2007. The spokesperson did not respond to a question about whether it would be taken down.