A crowd of more than 1,000 waved flags, held up placards or just stood in solidarity on the lawn of the B.C. legislature Sunday to show their support for the citizens of Ukraine, at a rally organized by members of Greater Victoria’s Ukrainian community.
Natalia Kuksa, who was originally from Ukraine and has only been in Canada for two years, said that she was amazed at the size of the crowd.
The 29-year-old held up a sign that said Peace and Democracy in Ukraine! with her country’s flag in the background.
She is still in disbelief that Russia invaded her homeland.
“We all had hoped that Putin was just playing a game to make everybody afraid of him,” said Kuska, who is originally from Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital.
Her parents chose to stay in Kyiv, with her mother working at a hospital in the city.
“I am very afraid for them.”
Roman Bublyk’s family choose to remain in the city of Pereyaslav, about 80 kilometres southeast of Kyiv. All five members of the family have found safety in their basement from the bombardment over the last few days. He stressed that, unlike basements in Canada, the basement in their house was not designed for habitation, but as a root cellar, with no windows, heat or conveniences.
“They still have electricity, but we don’t know for how much longer,” said Bublyk, 36, who has been in Canada under a work visa for the last year and a half.
Telephone service has been sporadic, but the few times he was able to get through, they have told him that they are safe, for now.
He hopes to become a permanent citizen of Canada, along with his wife, Yulia, 33, and three children.
Kate Misko, 30, met the Bublyks through a mutual friend. She came to Canada 10 years ago.
“All this support is appreciated,” said Misko, gesturing at the large crowd. “That’s why I chose to come to Canada. People here have been so welcoming and I find it more stable and safe.”
Russel Papp and Jessica LeFebvre aren’t Ukrainian but Papp has ancestry and relatives in the country. They were out with Ukrainian flags to show their support.
“We wanted to show solidarity with the Ukrainian community. There is a global awareness of the conflict and we wanted to send a clear message of support,” said Papp.
LeFebvre also pointed out that Feb. 24, the day the Russians invaded, also happens to be Independence Day in Estonia, where she was born. Estonia was occupied by the former Soviet Union between 1940 and 1990, when it became the first of the republics to declare its sovereignty from Moscow. Ukraine followed the same path to sovereignty about a year later.
Her fear is that if Russia is successful in its invasion of Ukraine, it may be emboldened enough to try to reclaim all the other former republics that existed in the Soviet sphere until its breakup in 1991, including Estonia.
“These are regional struggles that have gone on for generations,” said LeFebvre. “We need to learn from history and make sure it doesn’t happen again.