Angel Zytynsky stands behind the counter of her family’s longstanding Ukrainian deli on Montreal’s Beaubien Street, donning a white shirt embroidered with red flowers.
The last few days have been hard as customers pop by to check in on her after Russia launched a full-scale attack against the country where her grandparents were born.
Her family hasn’t been able to reach their distant cousins in the capital city of Kiev, where phone lines are cut.
“It makes me sad,” Zytynsky said. “It makes me anxious to know this is going on.”
Montrealers who come by are concerned, too. Some come to discuss the unfolding invasion while others simply to wish Zytynsky courage. One woman handed her a candle with an angel on it.
“They’re curious and a lot of them are worried — they are full of anxiety,” she said.
Shelling and airstrikes have bombarded Ukraine, where air raid sirens have been ringing out in cities like Kiev to urge residents to find shelter. It’s a stark contrast with the silence Zytynsky has noted among her Ukrainian Canadian friends in the community.
“They are quiet. And I think they are praying to themselves inside hoping everything will be okay.”
Over the course of her life, she has sought to keep the traditions of her family and her roots embedded within her own household and life. She has been behind the counter of Zytynsky’s Deli, which is a mainstay in the neighbourhood, for 36 years and her children all speak the language.
“I wanted to keep the culture. It’s important to me,” she said.
Zytynsky has been fielding interviews with journalists throughout the week as a voice among the Ukrainian diaspora in Montreal. But her voice breaks when she mentions seeing reports of the bombings.
The front page of a local newspaper with a photo of an elderly woman whose “face was all bashed in” makes her pause.
“That could have been my mom, my grandma.”
All Zytynsky wants is for the violence to end. She says Russian President Vladimir Putin has his own nation and should leave Ukraine alone.
But she also acknowledged the character and perseverance of Ukrainians — even as they face explosions and gunfire.
“We’re good people. We’re strong people,” she said. “Our ancestors, our families from way back, they are hard workers. So I just hope that stays with us to keep our country, our country of Ukraine.”
Zytynsky also had a message for her fellow Ukrainians: “Keep strong, believe in God and love each other.”
“Slava Ukraini! Glory to God! Glory to Ukraine!”
—with files from Global News’ David Sedell and Anne Leclair