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Island Ukrainians respond to looming threat of Russian invasion

The online #StandWithUkraine campaign is meant to bring awareness to the looming threat of a Russian invasion in Ukraine.
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Victoria Grando joins in with the online #StandWithUkraine campaign Saturday to raise awareness of the Ukrainian people's right to live free and in peace in their own country. SUBMITTED

As Russia continues to move troops and equipment toward its border with Ukraine, local members of Canada’s Ukrainian community are standing together to support their country’s right to live freely and peacefully.

Victoria Grando joined the online international #StandWithUkraine campaign Saturday to bring awareness to the looming threat of a Russian invasion against her homeland.

Jan. 22 was chosen as the date for the campaign because it’s Unity Day in Ukraine, a day that marks the anniversary of the unification of eastern and western Ukraine in 1919, she explained.

“We’re showing our unity and support for Ukraine during such a terrible time,” said Grando, who posted a photo of herself holding her #StandWithUkraine on Facebook. “We support Ukraine every day here. I still have my family there and we’re just praying that there’s no war.”

Grando was born in Kyiv and moved to Canada 28 years ago. She is married to a man of Russian descent and works at the Ukrainian Cultural Centre. She is grateful for Canada’s support and hopeful the government can do more to achieve a diplomatic solution.

“We don’t want war and the citizens of Russia don’t want war,” she said. “You feel like you’re up in the air and it’s not real. What can we expect nowadays, hoping and praying that nothing will happen. That’s the reason we’re having #StandWithUkraine — to make sure it’s going to be solved diplomatically, no weapons involved, no military action.”

On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Canada will lend Ukraine up to $120 million. The money will not be used to buy weapons. Rather, the government said it will be used to support the Ukrainian economy.

Canada is also planning to extend and enhance its military training mission in Ukraine. Under Operation Unifier, 200 Canadian soldiers are training Ukrainians to ensure they are ready to fight.

The #StandWithUkraine campaign is calling on the government to offer Ukraine a membership in NATO, substantially increase the provision of defensive weapons to Ukraine, and increase sanctions on Russia.

“All of us who came from Ukraine, and even Ukrainian Canadians who still have their families, they are absolutely worried about their families, of course,” Grando said.

Her father’s family — an uncle, his wife, child and grandchild — lives in Donetsk in occupied eastern Ukraine.

“Because it’s an occupied territory, connections are terrible,” she said. “Honestly, I have not lately heard anything from them.”

However, friends who live close to the border have told her they are ready for an invasion.

“The government of Ukraine has actually issued a warning in case of invasion and they sent out a list of things people must have like a suitcase with documents, enough food. The government of Ukraine is assuring them they are ready to evacuate them,” Grando said.

The war has been going on for eight years now, she said. It began in 2014 when Russia invaded and occupied Crimea.

“They have been living life on a volcano for eight years,” she said. “You never know what’s going to happen. Unfortunately, it’s just heartbreaking.”

Devon Sereda Goldie, Victoria’s representative of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, is urging all Canadians to take part in the campaign and wrote to members of Parliament to voice support for Ukraine.

For information on the campaign, go to www.ucc.ca.

ldickson@timescolonist.com