British Columbians keep focus on Ukraine with multiple Sunday rallies

Click to play video: 'British Columbians worried about the chaotic fate of loved ones and strangers in Ukraine'
British Columbians worried about the chaotic fate of loved ones and strangers in Ukraine
The conflict in Ukraine has many here in B.C. doing all they can to help the refugees trying to escape the fighting. Emad Agahi reports. – Mar 6, 2022

Large numbers of British Columbians turned out to support Ukraine once again, at rallies staged on Vancouver Island and in the Lower Mainland on Sunday.

In Victoria, hundreds of people with Ukrainian flags and signs proclaiming solidarity with the country lined Douglas street from the Ukrainian Cultural Centre to the downtown core.

Click to play video: 'Volunteers in B.C. sending much needed supplies to Ukraine'
Volunteers in B.C. sending much needed supplies to Ukraine

“It’s unfair, it’s unpredictable and so sad and senseless,” said Natalia Potokina, whose husband’s family lives in eastern Ukraine where cities continue to face heavy shelling.

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“We are here to support the fight for independence and freedom.”

Artem Potokin told Global News he’d emigrated from Ukraine at age nine, and is worried about family who remain in the country.

“My grandma and my uncle they see missiles flying around, they have to go to bomb shelters, hear sirens,” he said.

“Multiple times a day they need to go in and out of bomb shelters … always living in this stressful situation, not knowing what’s going to happen next, if there is going to be a bomb right in front of you.”

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In Vancouver, supporters staged the second rally in as many days, this time gathering at Jack Poole Plaza.

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Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart was among the speakers at the event, and said the city was working with the federal and provincial governments on aid and refugee settlement.

A third rally was scheduled for Sunday evening, with hope of highlighting the plight of foreign students in the war-torn country.

Organizer Dupinder Saran is the founder of One Voice Canada, a non-profit that advocates for international students and educates them about their rights in Canada.

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Saran said Sunday’s rally is meant to be an opportunity to show unity between Canadians, Ukrainians, anti-war Russians and international students, and highlight that war is waged by governments but hurts people.

“At the end of the day, who is going to lose out more in this war? It’s always the people living in the country,” she said.

“When we say people living in the country, we’re also including all the immigrants, all the refugees, all the students and the others that are included in that environment at that time.”

Refugees continue to pour out of Ukraine and into neighboring countries. On Sunday, the U.N. refugee agency raised its estimate on the number of displaced people to 1.5 million.

Click to play video: 'Refugee of colour faces discrimination while fleeing country'
Refugee of colour faces discrimination while fleeing country

A small but significant fraction of that number are immigrants and international students, many of whom have reported racism and poor treatment at border crossings.

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In an interview with the Associated Press Sunday, Nigerian student Alexander Somto Orah, 25 described xenophobia and threats of violence as he approached the border with Poland shortly after Russia’s invasion.

Ukrainian border guards “separated Africans, together with Indians, from the rest and directed us to the Romanian border” scores of miles away, Orah said. “They told us that if we try to push our way through, they are going to shoot us.” The group was eventually allowed to cross.

Click to play video: 'UNBC athlete raises awareness & funds for Ukraine'
UNBC athlete raises awareness & funds for Ukraine

Saran told Global News that amid the unfolding humanitarian crisis, finding common ground was more important than ever.

“We’re trying to bring people onto same platform and say everybody is affected by this war, it doesn’t matter where you’re rom, what background you’re from,” she said.

“We just want to bring community together and show a form of solidarity and let Ukraine know that Canada stands with them.”

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The Surrey rally was scheduled for 6 p.m. at Holland Park, and Saran said people of all backgrounds are encouraged to come.

— With files from Emad Agahi and the Associated Press

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