Alberta’s Ukrainian community is nervously watching events unfold overseas.
Many fear for the safety of friends and family back home after Russian troops launched a large-scale military attack on Ukraine Thursday.
The City of Calgary released a statement on the situation.
“On behalf of Mayor Jyoti Gondek, Calgary City Council and in partnership with city manager David Duckworth and city administration, the City of Calgary has raised the flag of Ukraine at the Municipal Building to show support for a sovereign nation under a horrifying and unprovoked attack,” the statement read.
“We stand in support of the Ukrainian community in our city and the people who have close ties to their homeland.”
Members of Calgary’s Ukrainian community gathered at city hall over the noon hour on Thursday.
Ukraine-born Igor Kyryiluk’s father and extended family are all overseas. He said a bomb went off as he was speaking to his dad Thursday.
“The most ironic thing is that I was telling my dad that the war is coming, but nobody ever believed me,” said Kyryiluk.
“He was telling me that under any circumstances he won’t leave the city because my grandmother still stays there. She has a broken ball in her hip so she can’t move fully, so he has to take care for her. And he was saying that he’s not going to surrender.”
A man who identified himself as Vasili claiming Ukrainian heritage showed up to support his friends and family back home.
“It’s a terrible thing that’s going on,” he said. “I’m here just to support. Nothing we can do more, right?”
Natalie Hanas said the news of Russia’s military operation was not surprising but extremely heartbreaking. Hanas is the president of the Ukrainian Students’ Society at the University of Alberta and has been helping Ukrainian students find resources, while also raising awareness within the university community. While Hanas’ immediate family is in Canada, many of her relatives are still in Ukraine.
“Our family has been trying to contact our family in Ukraine. There’s just a lot of fear and uncertainty of what the next hour will bring and our inability, it seems, to help from the Canadian side,” Hanas said.
“There’s only so much we can do and it’s just really emotional and heartbreaking to be honest.”
Vigils are being planned across the province to show support for the people of Ukraine. Calgarians are invited to gather at the Peace Bridge at 5 p.m. Thursday and the Alberta Provincial Council of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress is organizing a rally at the Alberta Legislature at 7:00 p.m.
“The Ukrainian Armed Forces and the Ukrainian people will resist and will fight for their freedom until the day that the Russian enemy is expelled from their land,” the congress said in a news release.
“The governments of the free world state that they stand with Ukraine. They must do so now in deed, not in word,” the congress said. “All efforts must be marshalled in the coming days in support of the Ukrainian peoples’ right to statehood and self-determination.
“Putin and his criminal regime will meet the end that awaits all tyrants and despots.”
Edmonton senator Paula Simons said Russia’s decision to conduct a large-scale military operation sickened her.
Growing up against the backdrop of the Cold War, Simons said she didn’t expect something like this to happen again in her lifetime. While she isn’t ethnically Ukrainian, Simons said her family has deep roots in Ukraine and in Edmonton’s large Ukrainian community.
“We are going back to a time that I thought my own child would never have to. I’m heartsick for the people of Ukraine, and I’m also really worried about what this means for geopolitical stability at large,” Simons said.
When asked what kind of action she wants the federal government to take against Russia, Simons said she wants to see more economic sanctions. On Thursday, the Senate unanimously voted to denounce the Russian aggression against Ukraine.
“During the Cold War, it was harder for sanctions to have any effect because the Soviet bloc would have its own economy… Sanctions now have a power that they never would have had 40 years ago because Russians are now integrated into the western industrialized economy. I think economic sanctions could be powerful in that way,” she said.
On the other side of the conflict, some local Russians are shocked by what has happened.
Olga Prokhorova runs Edmonton’s Russian Educational Centre and has family in both countries.
She said while there had been talk of Russia taking action in Ukraine, nobody ever really believed it would happen.
“It’s very hard to see and hear about it because it’s kind of real for me… we lived in peace for so many years in this world and war isn’t something that happens close to you,” she said.
“These are places that we actually visited and we know them, so that’s why it’s horrible to see and hear the bombing, and see the disaster happening there.”
Alberta has the second largest population of Ukrainians in Canada, with just over 330,000.