Ottawans with ties to Ukraine watch, worry from afar

People in Ottawa with strong ties to friends and family in Ukraine say they're sad, fearful and devastated after the Russian military invaded this week — the largest attack on a European state since the Second World War.

Fear, sadness as Putin's troops march into sovereign country

Ottawa residents worry for family members in Ukraine as Russia invades

9 months ago
Duration 1:25
Ottawa couple Igor Shkvorets and Iryna Troshyna, one from Ukraine and the other from Russia, protested Thursday in front of the Russian embassy against the invasion of Ukraine, saying people deserve to live in peace.

As she works away inside her small spa and shop in downtown Ottawa, Oresta Korbutiak is distracted by the news unfolding in her parents' homeland.

Korbutiak's mother and father fled Ukraine as youngsters during the Second World War more than seven decades ago, and she still has strong ties to the country and its people. 

"I'm devastated. I'm sad. I'm heartbroken," said Korbutiak. "I have a friend who lives in Kyiv and he's in his car trying to get out."

Russian President Vladimir Putin declared war in a televised address Thursday morning. Then the Russian military invaded Ukraine by air, land, and sea in the biggest attack on a European state since the Second World War.

Hours before that declaration, Korbutiak had joined other Ottawans with links to Ukraine in front of the country's embassy to show support.

"It's a very tight community," she said. "It feels strange that I was at the embassy, standing with Ukraine, and then this. It's a shock."

WATCH | Canadians with close ties to Ukraine say invasion is 'heart-wrenching':

Canadians with close ties to Ukraine say invasion is ‘heart-wrenching’

9 months ago
Duration 0:42
Oresta Korbutiak, an Ottawa resident whose parents were born in Ukraine, says watching Russia invade their homeland has been devastating.

'Putin's war'

Throughout Thursday, individuals and groups also gathered in front of the Russian Embassy in Ottawa, holding signs and waving the Ukrainian flag. 

Tatiana Lebedeva, who is originally from St. Petersburg, Russia, is calling on the Russian government to end the conflict, and she hopes her compatriots will join her in speaking up.

Alexander Kohulko and Maria Feilyk came to Ottawa just 10 months ago, but their families are in Ukraine. 

As soon as he heard the news, Kohulko called home.

"I just called my mom and said to wake up and to pack all the stuff and be prepared to evacuate," said Kohulko. "Everybody is afraid, but nobody really prepared for scenarios that happened today."

Holding a sign reading "Stop Putin's War," Feilyk agreed that no one back home really expected this invasion, even though there were warnings.

Now, she said all their fears seem more real. 

"It's a fear that Putin can destroy us as a nation and destroy what we built in 30 years of independence in Ukraine," Feilyk said.

"I don't want to come home and see that it's Russia now."

Alexander Kohulko and Maria Feilyk hold protest signs outside the Russian Embassy in Ottawa on Feb. 24, 2022, one day after Russia declared war on Ukraine. The couple came to Ottawa from Ukraine just 10 months ago. (Robyn Miller/CBC)

'Wide-ranging' sanctions

Ambassadors and heads of G7 diplomatic missions also gathered at the Ukrainian Embassy Thursday afternoon to support the country's sovereignty.

Heads of G7 diplomatic missions gathered at the Ukrainian Embassy in Ottawa on Feb. 24, 2022, to show solidarity for that country’s sovereignty. (CBC)

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced "wide-ranging" sanctions" against Russia, economic measures the Canadian government says were carefully co-ordinated with other G7 countries and are meant to hobble Russia's economy.

Those targeted by the sanctions include members of the Russian elite and their family members, major Russian banks and other individuals and entities.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said targeting oligarchs — the Russian business leaders who plundered a post-Soviet Russia of its wealth and resources — is the best way to put pressure on Putin. 

"In terms of the effectiveness of those sanctions, that remains to be seen thus far," said Dani Belo, an assistant professor at Webster University in St. Louis and a fellow at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University. 

Belo noted there have been a number of rounds of sanctions imposed on Russia already.

"The effectiveness of those sanctions has been rather limited, and they did not achieve the outcomes we wanted," he said. 

WATCH | What it was like in Kyiv:

The scene on the streets of Kyiv as attack continues

9 months ago
Duration 2:00
Freelance reporter Jessica Golloher describes what it was like on the streets of Kyiv Thursday, as the Russian attack on Ukraine continued and people fled the capital city.


Staff in Global Affairs Canada's Ottawa office, as well as offices in major European countries, are on standby to support as needed.

"Should there be a surge in demand for consular assistance, we are prepared," said Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly in a statement.

"The situation in Ukraine has rapidly deteriorated and poses serious challenges. As a result, we are temporarily suspending operations at both our embassy and our consulate in Ukraine. Canadian personnel are now safely in Poland."

WATCH | Ukraine resident describes first day of 'unthinkable' invasion by Russia:

Ukraine resident describes first day of ‘unthinkable’ invasion by Russia

9 months ago
Duration 1:19
Iryna Dobrohorska, who lives in Kyiv, says she and her neighbours gathered in the basement shelter of their apartment building and discussed how to protect themselves from possible gunfire and shelling.

Joly said Canadians should continue to avoid all travel to Ukraine and those who are there should "shelter in place" unless it is safe for them to leave.

As for Korbutiak, she'd made plans before COVID-19 to take her parents back to Ukraine to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary. Due to the pandemic, the trip didn't happen. 

Now, she said, given current events, it likely never will. 

"It's their homeland," she said. "To see what's happening to your homeland, it's heart-wrenching."

Oresta Korbutiak shows some of the embroidered clothing and linens she brought home from visits to Ukraine. Her parents came to Canada after fleeing Ukraine during the Second World War. (Jean Delisle/CBC)


Julie Ireton

Senior Reporter

Julie Ireton is a senior reporter who works on investigations and enterprise news features at CBC Ottawa. She's also the host of the CBC investigative podcast, The Band Played On found at: You can reach her at

With files from Robyn Miller