'Stand with Ukraine' rally draws crowd in Toronto as fears grow over possible Russian invasion

About 300 people have gathered outside the Ukrainian Consulate in Toronto to show support for Ukraine as Russia moves closer to invading the country.

Rally outside Ukrainian Consulate held amid concerns about Russian aggression

A group of demonstrators displays a homemade sign against Russian aggression at a 'Stand with Ukraine' rally in Toronto on Tuesday evening. (Chris Glover/CBC)

About 300 people gathered outside the Ukrainian Consulate in Toronto on Tuesday evening to show support for Ukraine as fears grow over the possibility of a Russian invasion.

"Stand with Ukraine," the demonstrators chanted in the rain while holding umbrellas, placards and Ukrainian flags.

The demonstrators wanted to show Russian President Vladimir Putin that the Ukrainian community is "strong and united" in the face of Russian aggression, according to the Facebook page of the Toronto branch of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, which organized the rally.

Nadia Gereliouk, who moved from Ukraine to Canada and introduced speakers at the rally, said Canadians need to advocate for Ukraine.

"The support of Canadians is very important for Ukrainians not only in military aid but also in moral support. We have to be there as people for other people," she said.

Gereliouk said she is very concerned about the safety of her family back home and spoke Monday to relatives, some of whom are doctors and pharmacists who will be called to the front line if Russia invades, she said.

"I'm brought to tears actually, thinking that I'm saying goodbye to my loved ones. I hope that's not the case," she said. "It's hard to say something when you don't know what's coming. What you say is: 'I love you and we are going to get through this.'"

Demonstrators display placards that they held in the rain at the rally. (Peter Turek/CBC)

In Ottawa, meanwhile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Tuesday that Canada will impose new sanctions on Russia and deploy more troops to eastern Europe in response to Putin's decision to send military forces into two regions of eastern Ukraine.

Trudeau spoke to reporters as the rally was being held in Etobicoke.

'This could be a huge catastrophe'

Earlier, members of the Ukrainian community told CBC News they want Toronto residents to pay attention to the growing crisis, the Canadian government to continue to take action and the world community to help Ukraine.

Oleksandr Romanko, a University of Toronto professor who spends some of his time in Ukraine, said Ukrainians want Canada, the U.S. and the European Union to provide weapons and economic support. 

"We certainly understand that other countries can help us both militarily and economically, but it's our job to really stand against Putin because no one will do it for us," he said. 

"Economic development is what we need in order to support our army and our navy and to be able to defend ourselves against potential Russian aggression."

Oleksandr Romanko, a University of Toronto professor, stands in front of buildings at Sumy State University in Ukraine. He said Ukraine needs economic development to help fend off Russian aggression. (Submitted by Oleksandr Romanko)

Romanko's parents live about 40 kilometres from the Russian border. He said there are signs of Russian aggression, but people are not panicking. Instead, people are getting prepared, he said. Romanko plans to fly back to Ukraine in early April.

"That's a difficult decision to make when you have to leave your parents and friends over there. Of course, I try to do whatever I can to keep them safe, but still it's not a good feeling that I am here and they are there." 

Marc Shwec, chair of the Stand with Ukraine committee, said an invasion would prompt people to flee the country.

"This could be a huge catastrophe, more than Europe has seen any time since World War II. And it would cause immense catastrophes for people economically, socially, personally for people. We're trying to raise funds immediately to help the people who are displaced." 

A Canadian GoFundMe page has raised more than $140,000 in funds for humanitarian assistance. 

Two people hold up a sign to show their support for Ukraine as fears grow over the possibility of a Russian invasion. (Chris Glover/CBC)

Toronto 'stands in solidarity,' mayor says

In a statement on Tuesday, Toronto Mayor John Tory said he condemns any acts of aggression toward Ukraine.

"While International issues are the domain of the Government of Canada, it is important for me as mayor that we all stand in solidarity with Ukraine and with our wonderful Ukrainian community here in Toronto," he said in the statement.

"Recent actions by Russia are extremely troubling and I support sanctions imposed by Canada and the international community and other forms of support we have extended to Ukraine."

With files from Chris Glover, The Canadian Press, The Associated Press