B.C. mayor with Ukrainian heritage ‘heartbroken’ by conflict as vigil gets underway

Click to play video: 'Vancouver resident’s ordeal in Ukraine' Vancouver resident’s ordeal in Ukraine
A Vancouverite in Ukraine talks to Global News of his ordeal escaping the fighting in his homeland. Emad Agahi reports – Feb 27, 2022

Valaria van den Broek has watched in heartbreak as Russian forces have bombed cities in Ukraine, forcing more than 100,000 civilians to flee in terror.

The Langley, B.C. mayor has family in Ukraine on her father’s side and will be part of a crowd gathered for a vigil on Sunday to show support for the besieged Eastern European country.

“I’d been heartbroken since this war has broken out, I feel like somebody has punched me in the gut,” van den Broek said in an interview.

“I thought, you know, this is a really good way to bring the community together, to share our stories, to cry a little, to vent our anger against the dictator Putin.”

Read more: ‘They’re not alone’: Thousands rally outside B.C. legislature in solidarity with Ukraine

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The Sunday vigil is scheduled for 6 p.m. outside the Langley Vineyard Church on Glover Road. It will include candles and laminated placards featuring the Ukrainian and Canadian flags.

“We just want people to come together and talk about this because this is what we need to do,” van den Broek explained. “Coming together as a community really helps us mentally and psychologically.”

Click to play video: 'Local Ukrainian Canadians are also caught up in the invasion of their homeland' Local Ukrainian Canadians are also caught up in the invasion of their homeland
Local Ukrainian Canadians are also caught up in the invasion of their homeland – Feb 26, 2022

Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine last Thursday — an act of war that prompted condemnation from leaders around the world.

Canada, the United States, Japan, Australia and the European Union have all hit Moscow with economic sanctions. On Sunday, Canada’s foreign affairs minister said she was considering sending additional weapons to support Ukraine.

“It’s unacceptable what’s going on right now. He should be tried for war crimes,” said van de Broek, referring to Russian president Vladimir Putin.

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Read more: Ukraine slows Russian invasion under looming threat of nuclear attack

Ukraine’s health ministry has reported at least 352 civilians, including 14 children, have been killed, and 1,684 have been wounded, including 116 children.

“They’re terrified. They have not asked for war, this has been brought on them,” said the Langley mayor.

Van den Broek said she remembers growing up during the Cold War and feeling ashamed of her Ukrainian heritage, which includes ties to Russia.

Now, she said some of her constituents feel afraid, watching as another war involving the Kremlin unfolds.

“People are afraid, they don’t want their children to see war,” she explained. “It’s been hard. You throw COVID on top of it, you throw other areas of the world that the Taliban has taken over again and now this … I think our generation really thought we were done with this.”

Click to play video: 'More than 1,000 rally against Russian invasion of Ukraine in Downtown Vancouver' More than 1,000 rally against Russian invasion of Ukraine in Downtown Vancouver
More than 1,000 rally against Russian invasion of Ukraine in Downtown Vancouver – Feb 26, 2022

A massive crowd rallied outside the B.C. legislature in Victoria on Sunday. Like van den Broek, demonstrators felt Canadians have a role to play in showing Ukrainians, and each other, that peace and democracy are important to them.

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“There’s not much I can do financially right now to support Ukraine so I wanted to come out and show my support in the way that I can,” said Emmalee Lovelace. “Ukraine we’re here to support you.”

Read more: ‘Everything on the table’: Joly says Canada will do more to ‘suffocate’ Russia

At Vancouver’s Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral, many British Columbians with Ukrainian heritage gathered for their first mass since the war began last week. Some brought flowers and laid them inside the church.

“There’s a lot of anxiety in the community about what’s going on and I think now’s any better time than ever to pray and turn the situation over to God,” said congregant Ryan Warawa.

“It’s beyond our individual control, so I think this is an opportunity for a lot of the Ukrainian community to turn inwards to their faith.”

Russia and Ukraine have agreed to hold talks on Monday at an unspecified location on the Belarusian border, according to a Sunday statement from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Zelenskyy has said he doesn’t “really believe” much will come from the meeting, but it’s worth trying to negotiate, so there will be no doubt he “tried to stop the war.”

— With files from Saba Aziz

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