A 32-year-old man has been charged after a window was smashed and a Ukraine flag was ripped off a Ukrainian-Canadian family’s vehicle in York Region on Sunday in what police say is a “potential hate-motivated incident” in Vaughan.
In a press release issued Monday afternoon, York Regional Police said the victim was driving in the Bathurst Street and Steeles Avenue area when a red Range Rover cut them off and stopped in the middle of a live lane of traffic.
“A male suspect got out of the Range Rover and tore a Ukraine flag off of the victim’s vehicle and smashed one of the vehicle windows,” the release reads.
Police said the man may also be involved in “at least one other incident” in Toronto. He has been charged with mischief under $5,000.
“The motivation for the Saturday incident is still under investigation as the suspect is not of Eastern European descent and suffers from a significant mental health issue,” the release said.
Police said the 32-year-old man from Markham “will not be named for this reason.”
The victims — Maria Okulich, Michael Abrosimov and their two children — were on their way to the subway station to head downtown to attend the Ukraine solidarity march on Sunday when the incident happened.
In a video of the incident, recorded by Okulich, a man can be seen smashing the back, driver’s side window of the family’s car, hitting it a few times before the glass shatters.
Abrosimov said his five- and nine-year-old daughters were in the vehicle at the time of the incident.
In the video, the couple’s younger daughter can be seen just in front of where the window was smashed. As the glass shatters, she begins to cry.
The video then shows Abrosimov getting out of his vehicle and opening the back door of the red SUV.
That’s when the driver of the SUV speeds off through the intersection.
Okulich said the incident “really scared” the children, and left the whole family feeling “shocked.”
“It felt like it was the war,” Abrosimov said. “Everybody was on the edge with the war starting the last few days. And this is just unbelievable. We felt like the war started here, that we were under attack here.”
“We were just waving the flag, showing our support,” he continued. “We’re not doing anything, and somebody just breaks off our flag and throws it.”
Ambrosimov said a large dent was also left on the body of the family’s vehicle as a result of the incident.
“It’s very sad — like how can this happen here in Canada?” he said.
Okulich said the last few days have been very difficult, as her parents and grandparents still live in Ukraine.
“Right now my family is in Kyiv and they keep hearing blasts,” she said. “They’re hiding in the bomb shelter so it’s pretty nerve-wracking.”
Okulich said her parents are remaining in Kyiv to take care of her grandparents, and because all of the flights out of the country have been cancelled.
She said the family to go to the rally in Toronto to show their support.
“This is the least we can do, right?” Okulich said.
However, Okulich said she now feels “concerned” for her own safety in Toronto.
She called the man’s actions “terrible,” “unacceptable” and a “pure hate crime.”
“I will be afraid to make a support to my country because of this incident,” she said. “I shouldn’t be, I know, but I’m worried about our own safety right now.”
She said they had to speak to their daughters about the incident.
“We just explained that there is a war, and some people are acting crazy and they don’t think (about) what they are doing,” Okulich said.