EDMONTON, Canada — Members of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress rallied across Canada on Feb. 6 with the support of its partner organizations to call attention to Ukraine's fight against the potential for a further Russian invasion.
As Russia continues its troop buildup along Ukraine’s borders, now estimated at 130,000 soldiers, Ukrainians living in Canada want to show that Canada stands strong in its defense of Ukraine’s sovereignty.
For the last 130 years, Canada’s 1.5-million-strong Ukrainian community — the largest Ukrainian diaspora outside of Europe — has had a strong voice both in Canada and their ancestral homeland. Today’s event, dubbed #STANDWITHUKRAINE, united 30 communities across Canada, from Vancouver to Montreal, turning each of the ten provinces blue and yellow for the day.
A rally in Edmonton, home to one of the largest number of Ukrainian-Canadians, brought together over 150 people who wanted to show their support for the embattled nation. Chanting “Russia, hands off Ukraine” with signs that read “Stop Putin! Stop the war!” supporters gathered at the city's Hawrelak Park.
Yulianna Voloshyna, a native of Uzhhorod in western Ukraine, who now calls Edmonton home, is certain that even small actions like today’s rally can yield real results.
“In this extremely difficult time, it is very important to support Ukraine and Ukrainians in all possible ways,” she told the Kyiv Independent. “We are the Ukrainian community living outside Ukraine, but we all have Ukrainian roots. We are very worried about Ukraine and we want to show that we are ready to come together, support and ask the Government of Canada to pay attention to this problem and help Ukrainians in case of (further) invasion.”
She says the rallies show that people care about everything that is happening in Ukraine: “We are ready to make every effort to help Ukraine in these difficult times. We will ask for help from our government, from the local community, and together we will definitely win!”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also announced that the Canadian government will loan $120 million to Ukraine. Reportedly, however, the money cannot be used to buy weapons.
Canada has already introduced a few key steps in deterring Russian aggression. On Jan. 26, the federal government announced the extension of the operation UNIFIER for another three years and the deployment of 60 more personnel to join the 200 Canadian troops who are already on the ground assisting in training Ukrainian Armed Forces.
Canada’s non-lethal aid to Ukraine departed on Thursday night, the federal government confirmed. Defense Minister Anita Anand re-tweeted on Friday a photo of a Royal Canadian Air Force C-177 Globemaster departing Canadian Forces Base Trenton. The equipment included body armor and load carriage kits, binoculars, laser rangefinders, metal detectors and spotting scopes. The government claims the donation will help Ukraine defend itself against Russia in case of a further military intrusion.
But many Ukrainians believe this is not enough.
Martyn Stusiak, another participant at the rally, told the Kyiv Independent that Canada needs to “provide weapons to Ukraine because it is only the language of force that Moscow understands.”
Experts share Stusiak’s opinion. “For the sake of global peace and security, Canadian authorities must now deliver lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine to complement Canada’s significant investments in support of Ukraine and its sovereignty,” wrote Eugene Czolij, the former president of the Ukrainian World Congress.“The only way to successfully negotiate with (Russian President Vladimir) Putin is with an iron fist in a velvet glove.”
Stusiak added that the Canadian government also needs to address the issue of Russian disinformation within the country. The Russia Today television channel, a mix of news, tabloid oddities and Kremlin-aligned views can still be found on major Canadian cable companies' packages.