Winnipeg community rallies for Ukraine, fears for loved ones back home
More than 100 people gathered at rally urging Western countries to send military help to Eastern Ukraine
They came out in dozens, holding blue-and-yellow flags and messages of support for friends and family back home in Ukraine.
By the time the rally was in full swing, more than 100 people were braving the frigid temperatures near the Winnipeg sign at The Forks at an event held to urge Western countries to send military help to Eastern Ukraine, less than 24 hours after a Russian military assault began there.
Among the crowd was Valeriya Stretovych, who came to Canada from Ukraine as a 13-year-old in 2013.
With family still living in the European country, Stretovych said she was devastated to hear the news of the large-scale attack, which began just before 5 a.m. local time Thursday in Ukraine, or 9 p.m. CT Wednesday.
"I feel like I can't do anything to help my family back home. And I want to be able to do something…. I just couldn't sit at home," she said.
"Right now, I just feel very hopeless."
WATCH | Ukrainian rally at The Forks:
Andrii Kryvko said while he too is worried about family back in Ukraine, it was reassuring to see so many people show up at the rally.
"I'm glad to see so many of my friends here. But the latest events are pretty much disappointing," Kryvko said.
"I hope that Ukraine has enough strength to withstand that. That's my only hope — because I don't see too much … real help from other countries."
The Russian assaults in Ukraine have come from land, air and the Black Sea, as airstrikes and shelling have targeted cities and bases, according to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
Worry for friends and family living in the region has rippled across Manitoba, where the Ukrainian population numbers more than 180,000, according to the most recent available census data on ethnic origin.
That includes Yevgeniya Tatarenko, who arrived in Canada almost six years ago. And while her home is now the city of Morden, just over 100 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg, she said her heart is still in Ukraine.
So is her mom, Olena, a teacher who Tatarenko is trying to figure out a way to move from her home — about 140 kilometres from Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine — to the country's western side.
"She's panicking now and she doesn't want to leave because she's worried that she can be attacked," she said.
"The biggest worry [is] that she's alone there."
Tatarenko said like many Ukrainians, she hasn't gotten much sleep lately as she stays up to get updates from her mom and friends overseas, not knowing what to think or what might come next.
"I just can't even believe that everything is happening — that all those pictures, they're real. But they are real. And there are real people, innocent people, that were bombed and … airstriked," she said.
"It's not even 24 hours of this war and it's already horrible…. Half of Ukraine is on fire already."
Orest Cap also has family near the city of Donetsk, who he said are about 15 minutes from the war zone.
He's not sleeping much either as he waits for updates from family, like one that came earlier Thursday: an email asking him to pray for them, as they watched sporadic bombardment from Russian forces near their home.
"You could hardly relax or sleep in this kind of situation," he said.
"This is a nightmare for Ukraine, but … if this [does] not stop, it's going to be a nightmare for Europe and various other countries."
His brother, Alexander Cap, held back tears as he spoke about his wife's family back in the Ukrainian city of Drohobych.
"My wife's at work teaching, and it's — I don't know how she could teach and just think about her family at home," he said, holding a wooden cross.
"Hopefully God will help us. It's in God's hands."
At one Ukrainian church in Winnipeg's North End, that hope drove a small group of parishioners to gather in sombre prayer late Wednesday night and into the early hours of Thursday morning.
"It wasn't easy. It was something that I can't even explain," said Father Ihor Shved, pastor of the Ukrainian Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral of Sts. Vladimir and Olga.
"It's pain. It's shame for Russia. It's pain for Ukraine. It's sad. It's … I even can't express all feelings in English."
And while Shved said his friends and family in Ukraine are physically safe for now, people from across the European country have been deeply affected by the invasion.
"Pain is in their hearts as well. And we all are thinking about [the] future of our country and we are looking forward to [seeing] some good news," he said.
"Because, you know, it's just hope with us. And we pray and ask God to support us in those ways that he only knows."
With files from Sheila North, Peggy Lam, Mario De Ciccio and Anne-Charlotte Carignan