'Scary and devastating': Ottawans rally all weekend in support of Ukraine

All weekend, Ottawans have been expressing their anger at Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, following last week's invasion of the eastern European country.

Two protests outside Russian Embassy, candlelight vigil at Ukrainian Embassy

Protesters with their hands painted red demonstrate outside the Russian Embassy in Ottawa against that country's invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 26, 2022. (Nafi Alibert/Radio-Canada)

Elena Luckman talks to her family in Ukraine daily while she still can, knowing that one day — if critical infrastructure goes down — she may not be able to reach them.

"It just absolutely makes no sense. So we're here to support the spirit of Ukrainian people to fight," said Luckman, one of dozens of people who turned out Saturday night for a candlelight vigil at the Ukrainian Embassy.

All weekend, Ottawans have been expressing their anger at Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, following last week's invasion of the eastern European country.

On both Saturday and Sunday, hundreds of people wearing the thick blue and yellow stripes of the Ukrainian flag gathered in front of the Russian Embassy, waving protest signs and offering support for Ukraine and its beleaguered citizens.

Some were originally from Kyiv, with family members still in the Ukrainian capital. They changed slogans like "Vladimir Putin, hands off Ukraine" and "Long live Ukraine" as passing cars honked in solidarity.

"It is hard for us to be here and not to be able to help them in any way, [other than] with our own love and support," said Irena Abramova, who described how family members back in Ukraine were in hiding every night. 

"I'm afraid that my people will die."

Miroslawa Bilaniuk, who has family members in Ukraine, wears a crown of sunflowers as she participates in a rally against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine outside Ottawa City Hall on Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

'Shreds of hope'

Sunday's protest saw hundreds gathered at the embassy before marching the two kilometres to Ottawa City Hall, where they unveiled a giant Ukrainian flag on the grounds.

"It's really tough," said Borys Bilaniuk, who has friends in Kyiv. "They show me videos of rockets, bombs exploding and gunfire."

He and his mother, Miroslawa, both say Ukraine is still their homeland and they felt they had to show their support somehow. 

They said they both stay up until midnight, when the sun rises in Ukraine, to speak with their family.

"They're just telling us that they're surviving. They're holding on. They're full of hope that it will go away. They're just holding to the ... shreds of hope," said Miroslawa.

A woman holds a candle at an evening vigil held outside the Ukrainian Embassy in Ottawa on Feb. 26, 2022, days after the sovereign country was invaded by Russian forces. (Nafi Alibert/Radio-Canada)

An uncertain future

The night before, dozens of people like Luckman stood in the brisk cold outside the Ukrainian Embassy on Somerset Street W.

People sang while they lit candles in front of the embassy, where some said prayers in front of a makeshift altar.

Luckman said when she calls home these days, she hears sirens going off. Her family frequently has to seek shelter underground, she said. 

"It's super scary and devastating. So we're not sure what's going to happen tomorrow," she said. 

"Every night I can hardly sleep. and every morning I wake up with anxiety trying to get a hold of them, because I don't know."

People march through downtown Ottawa on Feb. 27, 2022, in a show of support for Ukraine following its invasion last week by Russian forces. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

With files from Kimberley Molina and Radio-Canada's Nafi Alibert