Separated by more than 7,000 kilometres, many Ukrainian-Manitobans spent a sleepless night Wednesday – praying, reaching out to loved ones and watching in shock – as news of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine reached the province.
“For everyone who has family back in Ukraine — this night was just horrifying,” Dmytro Malyk with the Manitoba chapter of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, told Global News Thursday morning.
Manitoba is home to more than 180,000 people of Ukrainian descent, and Myroslava Pidhirnyj is among them.
The Winnipegger, whose extended family and friends live in western Ukraine, is in disbelief that Russia’s attack is playing out country-wide.
“(My family) didn’t anticipate being hit at this time,” Pidhirnyj told 680 CJOB Thursday morning. “It came from the north. It came from the east, and it came from the south.”
Those living in western Ukraine felt relatively safe from Russian troops, Pidhirnyj said, but fear is creeping in.
However, Ukrainians are a “tough breed” willing to fight for their freedom, despite some being caught off guard, she said.
They value their democracy and freedom, Pidhirnyj said, adding that the invasion isn’t just a problem for Ukraine.
“Ukraine really is the buffer now,” she said. “Where will Putin stop?“
Winnipegger Nick Krawetz shared Pidhirnyj’s concerns, convinced the Russian president won’t stop with Ukraine.
Krawetz and his wife — who emigrated from the eastern European country to Canada about 10 years ago — are running through a range of emotions in the face of uncertainty overseas.
His wife’s immediate family decided Thursday to evacuate the Kyiv region, some of whom were living by its international airport where explosions took place overnight, Krawetz said.
“They’ve decided to get out, but they’re in a very tough spot because the freeways leading out of Kyiv are basically roadblocked,” he said. “People are starting to panic.”
The family is travelling to western Ukraine where they have a place to stay, but whether or not the conflict extends there or something happens en route remains to be seen, Krawetz said.
“That’s the big question mark right now.”
Other family members, however, are staying put, including Krawetz’s father-in-law, who enlisted in the country’s volunteer reserve brigade just over a week ago in case a military attack unfolded.
The man celebrated his 65th birthday on Wednesday, Krawetz said.
He called the situation “surreal,” at times becoming emotional in a Thursday interview with Global News.
“We’re talking about things like it’s World War II again,” Krawetz said. “It’s really scary in that sense, but we just, know you, are hoping that this will be stopped.”
Ukraine is in its hour of need, and local community members will be sharing more information on how Manitobans can show their support, he said.
“This is not solely about Ukraine,” Krawetz said. “This is about basically, you know, standing up for democratic principles, standing up for democracy, sovereignty, human rights, anybody who believes that (a) larger country should not be gobbling up their smaller neighbours.”
Manitoba politicians standing with Ukraine
Premier Heather Stefanson condemned Russia for violating Ukraine’s sovereignty and pledged to back the federal government in imposing economic sanctions on Russia and in sending Canadian military equipment to Ukraine.
“It is unacceptable behaviour,” Stefanson said in a Thursday news release.
“It is hard to imagine how difficult watching the news must be for so many Manitobans who have loved ones in Ukraine,” she said.
“I share your concerns, and Manitoba will support the federal government in everything it can to pressure Russia to end its aggression and restore peace in the region.”
Stefanson also approves of Canada’s decision to give financial loans to Ukraine, the release said.
In a Thursday statement, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress in Manitoba thanked the premier and the provincial government for its support.
“The entire Ukrainian community of Manitoba appreciates the contribution of $150,000 that the province is providing to the joint Ukrainian Canadian Congress – Canada-Ukraine Foundation,” UCC’s provincial council said.
“The funds will be used to provide humanitarian aid to the civilian population in Ukraine, internally displaced persons and potential refugees.”
Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman also voiced his support for Ukraine and Winnipeg’s Ukrainian-Canadian community in a Thursday morning tweet, calling Russian President Vladimir Putin’s move “a brutal act of war in Europe.”
“I’m heartbroken by what we’re seeing right now,” Bowman said at a city hall press conference.
“Many Winnipeggers have a very deep and personal tie to Ukraine,” he said, including his wife.
Bowman says it’s important people living in the city condemn the invasion and stand with Ukrainian-Canadians at this time.
Russia’s military attack global ‘wake-up call’
Putin warned that any interference from other countries as his forces invade Ukraine would lead to “consequences you have never seen in history.”
NATO says it will defend every ally against any attack on every inch of NATO territory, but no world leader is promising to move in militarily at the risk of touching off a bigger European war.
Ukrainians aren’t expecting Canada and other countries to fight their war for them, Pidhirnyj said, but she’s calling on Canadians to assist Ukraine and its citizens in other ways, through economic sanctions and humanitarian support.
Ukrainian Canadian Congress CEO Ihor Michalchyshyn agrees Ukraine’s ask to Canada was always to punish Putin, his inner circle and Russia’s economy.
“We need the toughest, biggest, harshest sanctions on Russia to cripple its economy so that they can’t pay for these assaults and invasions,” Michalchyshyn told 680 CJOB Thursday morning.
At a press conference Thursday afternoon, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Canada was imposing more severe sanctions on Russia, targeting 58 entities and people connected to the country, including key cabinet ministers, members of the country’s elite and their families along with members of the Russian Security Council.
Trudeau says the government is prioritizing immigration applications for Ukrainians who want to come to Canada, and that it has arranged for the safe passage of any Canadian citizens, permanent residents and their families still in Ukraine through neighbouring countries.
Canadian Global Affairs Institute president David Perry suspects the situation could turn into Europe’s largest humanitarian crisis in recent memory.
He anticipates thousands of Ukrainians will flee to neighbouring countries, including Poland and Moldova, which will need help feeding and housing refugees.
Perry called the large-scale military attack a different ball game and is hopeful it serves as a global “wake-up call.”
“We haven’t seen this kind of sophisticated, combined, co-ordinated, widespread military effort in the last several decades, unless it was one that the United States, effectively, was leading,” Perry told 680 CJOB Thursday morning.
“We haven’t seen this from somebody who’s on the opposite side of the fence from us leading this kind of an effort,” he said.
Economic sanctions ‘very often’ don’t work: expert
University of Manitoba law professor Brian Schwartz says sanctions like the ones Canada imposed on Russia Thursday “very often” aren’t effective.
Schwartz pointed to a number of cases such as Russia’s decade-long involvement in Afghanistan that extended for most of the 1980s.
“It took a very long time for international pressure to cause South Africa to fundamentally change,” he added.
“There have been some cases where they’ve been successful, but certain conditions have to be met for them to work,” Schwartz told 680 CJOB Thursday.
Countries must take a co-ordinated, long-term approach, he said.
“There’s no point cutting off your own economic benefits if one of your allies is going to do more business with your adversary.”
“The sanctions have to be painful … and they have to demoralize,” Schwartz said. “You want to (delegitimize) the policy and the regime in the eyes of the ordinary people.”
Countries must send a strong message without causing humanitarian catastrophes, he continued.
Aside from sanctions, Schwartz suggests Western countries find energy independence from tyrannical regimes.
“The corruption and the military machine (in Russia) is driven by oil revenues,” he said.
“(Energy independence) would actually benefit our economy rather than cause us harm, and it’s not good for the environment to be sourcing your energy supplies from violent and unstable regimes.”
— with files from The Canadian Press