Nfld. & Labrador

Ukrainian community in N.L. rallies in solidarity with those facing Russian invasion

A couple of hundred people gathered outside St. John's city hall Saturday afternoon in solidarity with Ukraine after Russia's attack on the country.

'I have 44 million relatives in Ukraine, and no, they are not safe,' university professor says

The Ukrainian community in St. John's organized a rally on Saturday in solidarity with the country. (Henrike Wilhelm/CBC)

A couple of hundred people gathered outside St. John's city hall Saturday afternoon in solidarity with Ukraine after Russia's attack on the country.

"For us to come and stand here is nothing compared to what the people of Ukraine are suffering with right now," said Brian Cherwick, one of the rally's organizers.

"Even this, it's helpful to send those messages back to Ukraine that people in Canada really care, we support [them], our government supports them, we're going to be doing all we can to help them out of this horrible, horrible crisis."

Russian forces invaded Ukraine on Thursday, drawing sanctions and condemnation from many world leaders as Russian troops advance on Kyiv, Ukraine's capital.

Mariya Lesiv, another of the rally's organizers, said she's been in touch with people in Ukraine almost hourly. She said they told her having people stand in solidarity with them in Canada is helpful.

"It's a real psychological support for them to know that people across the ocean, so far away, are thinking about them," Lesiv said.

Supporters hold signs and wave flags outside St. John's city hall in solidarity with Ukraine. (Henrike Wilhelm/CBC)

The Ukrainian flag was raised above city hall during the rally, and the crowd that gathered sang the country's national anthem.

Mykhaylo Evstigneev, a professor in the physics department at Memorial University, spoke to the crowd during the rally. Evstigneev said he's been following the events back home in Ukraine closely over the past few days and hasn't slept much.

"My colleagues ask me often, do I have relatives in Ukraine and are they OK, are they safe," he said. "I have 44 million relatives in Ukraine, and no, they are not safe."

Mariya Lesiv, left, and Brian Cherwick organized the rally to show support for people in Ukraine. (Henrike Wilhelm/CBC)

Both Cherwick and Lesiv have family in western Ukraine. While that area is relatively safe, they said, things are changing very quickly.

Lesiv, a parent of young children, said she is concerned about the toll the war is taking on children and their parents.

"Yesterday I was speaking to my brother [in Ukraine] and his nine-year-old son came up to him and said, 'Dad, we probably shouldn't go to bed this night, should we, because what if they start bombing?'" she said.

"I just started crying, because that was such a painful moment.… How do you explain to a nine-year-old what is going on? And how do you explain it to a three-year-old?"

They said donating money through reliable sources, like the Red Cross, will help those in need in Ukraine. 

But Cherwick also called on Western governments to freeze the assets of Russian oligarchs to help end the war.

"If we can do something to make it difficult for the people in power in Russia to continue their game of chess, and if it means shutting off their money, shutting off their access to Western luxury that they all love, then I think that's something we need to do as much as possible," he said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Henrike Wilhelm

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