Winnipeggers worry about friends, family amid Russian aggression near Ukraine

Bohdana Kornelyuk's mother and grandmother live in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, more than 1,000 kilometers away from the threat of Russian invasion.

As tensions continue to rise, 'I am still afraid for my family,' says Bohdana Kornelyuk

Dr. Orest Cap, a professor emeritus from the University of Manitoba, attends a rally for Ukraine in the churchyard of St. Mary the Protectress Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Winnipeg, Man., on Sunday. (Travis Golby/CBC)

Bohdana Kornelyuk's mother and grandmother live in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv more than 1,000 kilometres away from the threat of Russian invasion.

Kornelyuk was among about 50 people who gathered in the churchyard of St. Mary the Protectress Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral to join in solidarity with Ukraine late Sunday afternoon.

The rally was organized by the Manitoba chapter of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC), and was part of the national organization's #StandWithUkraine initiative.

Tensions between Moscow and the West have continued to rise throughout January as Russia continues to mobilize troops and military equipment near the Ukrainian border.

The threat of an invasion is very real and countries need to present a unified front against Russian President Vladimir Putin, says University of Manitoba emeritus professor Dr. Orest Cap.

"It's important that Winnipeg also has a voice. And in fact, we need to make sure that Ukrainians have a voice," Cap told CBC News. "Ukraine wants to maintain its sovereignty and needs the immediate help and assistance of the world."

The rally was organized by the Manitoba division of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress. (Submitted by Robert K. Iwan/Ukrainian People Magazine)

Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, illegally occupying Crimea, Ukraine's southern oblast, or province. Since then, Russia was engaged in a war of aggression in the eastern Ukrainian oblasts of Donetsk and Luhansk, according to the UCC.

The organization says the war has resulted in over 13,000 dead and 30,000 wounded Ukrainians, plus 1.5 million internally displaced people.

Cap has family in the Donetsk area and is constant contact with them.

Yevgeniya Tatarenko, a member of UCC in Manitoba, also has family in eastern parts of Ukraine.

Yevgeniya Tatarenko, a member of the Manitoba chapter of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, says Ukraine needs help from its friends in the international community. (Travis Golby/CBC)

Her mother, a teacher, lives alone in Novomykolaivka, on the main highway between Zaporizhzhia to Donetsk. Tatarenko admits it's difficult to be in Canada while things are unfolding in her home country.

"It's really tough to see what is going on without an opportunity to send any help," Tatarenko said.

"Ukraine can't fight and defend itself just using what we have. We need the help of the world and NATO and other countries around the world."

Accelerating a NATO membership action plan is among a handful of moves the UCC is pushing the Canadian government to make in the midst of this crisis.

The UCC is also asking for increased sanctions on Russia, ensuring the Nord Stream 2 pipeline does not become operational, more and better defensive military equipment for Ukraine, and Canada agreeing to extend and expand its military training mission in Ukraine known as Operation Unifier.

"We want to bring awareness around the world and we want to bring attention to the political power of Canada and those people that can make decisions on the global level," Tatarenko said. 

"They can help our Ukraine to stand and to de-escalate this conflict and this war aggression from Russia."

If the situation worsens, Tatarenko hasn't ruled out trying to bring her mother to Canada as a refugee.

The same thought has also crossed Kornelyuk's mind. She was already thinking about potentially applying for visitor permits into Canada for her mother and grandmother.

Bohdana Kornelyuk is worried about her mother and grandmother living in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv. (Travis Golby/CBC)

"It seems like people already got used to the situation in the eastern part of Ukraine that there was a war, and it's a tragedy that people got used to a war," Kornelyuk said.

She came to Canada nearly four years ago to complete a master's degree in arts jointly through the University of Winnipeg and University of Manitoba, never thinking tensions in her home country would be this high.

Although tensions aren't high in Lviv, Kornelyuk says the well-being of her mother and grandmother are at the front of her mind.

"I noticed that the tensions are rising up. My mom is [not as] worried as I am about her safety because so far we see that Russia might invade … and this is scary," Kornelyuk said.

"Even though the city of Lviv is on the western part I am still afraid for my family."