Holding signs of support and waving Ukrainian flags, hundreds of people gathered in Halifax late Saturday afternoon to express solidarity with the people of Ukraine in the face of Russia’s invasion.
Organized by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress–Nova Scotia branch, the “I Stand With Ukraine” event was described by organizers as a call to action to show Russian President Vladimir Putin that the Ukrainian community “is strong and united in the face of Russian aggression” and to urge Nova Scotians to demand further sanctions against Russia.
Kateryna Stepanova, 23, was one of the more than 400 people of all ages who showed up to the event at Grand Parade. She moved to Canada from Ukraine with her parents and two younger brothers at the end of 2014 following the first Russian invasion in the eastern part of the country and the annexation of Crimea.
‘You kind of lose the earth under your feet’
Stepanova said she has “a huge amount” of family in Ukraine and described herself as heartbroken.
“When the first attack happened this Thursday early in the morning and I got a message from my mom that the war had begun, well it kind of breaks you from the inside out and you don’t have the words to talk about it,” Stepanova said in an interview.
“Then you try to reach out to people back home, and whenever you talk to your grandparents and your friends who just tell you ‘Hey, I’m really really scared right now,’ you kind of lose the earth under your feet because there’s nothing I can do.”
Stepanova said one of the hardest things is knowing she’s safe while so many of her family members and friends are not.
“It’s my people, it’s my home, and it’s more than just difficult. It’s devastating. It makes you very, very angry and it’s very disappointing that so far the world is not doing anything about it.”
‘Tired of history repeating itself’
Halifax resident Donna Manning, 51, doesn’t have any immediate connections to Ukraine but said she was compelled to attend Saturday’s event for many reasons.
“The most basic of it is that what’s happening is wrong. It’s wrong and the world needs to start speaking out against it,” Manning said in an interview.
“I want to be one of the voices that is pushing back in whatever ways that I can, which from the other side of the planet can be challenging. But this is something that I can do. I can be a voice in this way.”
Manning also said the last few days have made her think a lot about her childhood growing up in the Cold War era.
“It feels like I’ve been transported back about 30 or 35 years and I’m tired of history repeating itself and us never learning,” Manning said. “There are many ways this is coming at me and I felt the need to take action.”
‘Pay attention to what’s happening in Ukraine’
Virve Sandstrom and her sister Meiu Sandstrom also attended the call to action rally, holding signs proclaiming Estonians’ support of Ukrainians.
“As Estonians we know what this is all about and we have a fear that we could be next. But that’s really not what it’s about,” Virve said. “It’s just knowing what Ukraine is going through and wanting them to know they’re supported.”
Her sister agreed, adding that she wants Canadians to think long and hard about what freedom means and not to take it for granted.
“What we saw in Ottawa the last few weeks where people were complaining about not having freedom? I would say pay attention to what’s happening in Ukraine,” Meiu said. “Then you’ll really understand what freedom is all about when you lose it.”
Saturday’s event was held the day after Ukrainians resisted the Russian invaders following an intense overnight onslaught that included explosions, gunfire, and street fights.
Organizers gave speeches, had a moment of silence and played a solemn Ukrainian piece of music, shared stories of Ukrainian victories thus far, and thanked Nova Scotians and Canadians for their support.
‘I don’t think I can describe my feelings’
In an interview, organizer and secretary of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress–Nova Scotia branch Olena Lugova said her entire family is still in Ukraine.
“My parents and my sister, they live in Kyiv and they are in Kyiv now. My brother with his family, he’s in Odessa and he is there now,” Lugova said.
“They are protecting Ukrainian land. Right now.”
Lugova moved to Halifax in 2018, and said it was difficult knowing her closest family members are in danger.
While she communicates with them regularly via social media–and now much more easily thanks to Canadian phone companies having waived long distance and text charges to Ukraine–Lugova said it’s been an overwhelmingly stressful time.
“I don’t think I can describe my feelings, and actually there are no words to do that, that is for sure,” Lugova said.
She said she and members of her community are grateful for the support they’ve received from neighbours, fellow Nova Scotians and other Canadians.
“We are trying to do everything that is possible (from) here. We try to help financially. We try to help on different levels,” Lugova said.
“Everywhere, all people are with us. I know that and it helps.”
Lugova said there are an estimated 9,000 Ukrainians living in Nova Scotia and they’re doing all they can to help their families back home.
She said the call to action event was one way to do that.
“We would like NATO to close our sky. It’s our main message now. We have a lot of people in Ukraine who are fighting. Our army is strong, Our people are motivated,” Lugova said.
“They are fighting for Ukraine. Help us to protect our civilians. I would like to ask all Canadians to spread this information in their social media everywhere to support us on that.”
Lugova said the congress wanted to share the following statement with Nova Scotians and Canadians:
On behalf of Ukrainian Canadian Congress Nova Scotia branch, we would like to thank Canada and other countries for taking steps to support Ukraine. But we still need your help. The world must act immediately. The future of Europe and the whole world is being decided now. Today, Ukraine defends not only global security, but also freedom, democracy and the fundamental principles of international law.
As you know, in 1994, Ukraine signed the Budapest Memorandum, which is registered with the U.N. Secretariat. At that time, Ukraine had the third largest arsenal of nuclear weapons in the world after the United States and Russia. The essence of the agreement is that Ukraine has renounced nuclear weapons, while the United States and Great Britain and Russia guarantee Ukraine’s security assurances.
And the fact that no one is fulfilling its obligations to Ukraine is a great political precedent of the world. This shows other countries that such agreements do not make sense if they are not respected. We call for all Ukraine’s allies to protect our land from airstrikes. We call to close the sky above Ukraine. We call to institute a total trade embargo on Russia. We need your help now.
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