Ukrainian-Canadians ‘terrified’ for country’s future as Russia’s war surpasses 100 days

Click to play video: 'Reflecting on 100 days of war in Ukraine' Reflecting on 100 days of war in Ukraine
When Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, some experts predicted Kyiv would fall in days. But not only is the city still standing, it is roaring back to life. Jeff Semple reports from Kyiv on the 100th day of the conflict – Jun 4, 2022

Dmytro Malyk finds it hard to watch the news these days.

For more than 100 days, the 41-year-old Winnipeg resident has been staying on top of daily updates from his homeland Ukraine, which has been engaged in a brutal war with Russia that has shaken Europe and the world.

“I’m subscribed to multiple social media channels, Telegram channels; I’m following TV channels and different articles because I want to know what’s happening in my homeland, what’s happening in all those places where my relatives live, where my friends live,” he told Global News.

“It’s hard to believe that it’s still happening.”

“100 Days in Ukraine: A Global News Special” airs Saturday, June 4 at 8:30 p.m. ET. Watch it on GlobalNews.caYouTube, the Global TV app and on television.

After building up his troops near Ukraine’s borders for months, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his forces into Ukraine on Feb. 24 as part of a “special military operation” he sold as an attempt to rid the neighbouring country of extremists.

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Kyiv and its western allies called Putin’s order a baseless pretext to invade a country of 44 million people in an effort to topple its government, which was forging ties with the West.

Friday marked 100 days of the war and since it started, thousands have died and millions more have fled in what is the worst conflict Europe has seen since the Second World War.

Anastasiya Khoma poses for a photo in front of the Lviv National Opera theatre in Lviv, Ukraine in 2019. Anastasiya Khoma/photo

For Ukrainian-Canadians thousands of kilometres from the frontlines, watching the war unfold with their loved ones still in the country has been agonizing.

Anastasiya Khoma has difficulty remembering the first two weeks of the conflict.

“I barely remember those days because it was just chaos and a lot of stress, a lot of crying, a lot of sleepless nights,” the 28-year-old Edmonton resident told Global News.

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“We thought we were ready for anything to happen, but we were not actually ready for the war to start.”

Click to play video: 'Russia-Ukraine conflict: 1 killed in missile strike on school used as shelter in Kharkiv' Russia-Ukraine conflict: 1 killed in missile strike on school used as shelter in Kharkiv
Russia-Ukraine conflict: 1 killed in missile strike on school used as shelter in Kharkiv – Jun 2, 2022

In the first phase of the war from February to early April, Russia launched a widespread assault on the country, including an attempted blitz in and around the capital Kyiv to topple the government.

Russian forces pounded towns with artillery, leaving a wake of destruction in their path. That phase of the war ultimately failed, forcing Moscow to concentrate its fight in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, which is now the focal point of the war.

Read more: The first 100 days of war through the eyes of a Ukrainian village

Malyk’s parents, who live in western Ukraine, further away from the frontlines, saw their share of bombings. After their hometown was bombed for the third or fourth time, he insisted his mother come to Canada. She arrived in March, he said.

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His father remains there, teaching his college students virtually from home. His aunt, her children and grandchildren are living in Israel for the time being, Malyk added. But many of his friends are still in Ukraine.

“Lots of them have been affected by the war. Their houses, their apartments, have been destroyed by airstrikes and in particular in the Kyiv region and Kharkiv region,” he said.

“I’m terrified that that war now … continues to escalate.”

Dmytro Malyk poses for a photo in Winnipeg, Man., in 2018. Courtesy Dmytro Malyk

Two weeks ago, Khoma’s aunt and cousin landed in Edmonton, but her parents and grandparents are still in their hometown, Lviv, in western Ukraine.

Lviv – which was regarded as a safe haven in the early days of the war – has been struck by Russian missiles on several occasions.

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When the conflict gets too heated in the city, Khoma said her relatives temporarily move closer to the Polish border for safety.

Read more: 100 days in, Russia’s war brings death and destruction across Ukraine

Since the war broke out, she has been in contact with her family 24/7 to check in on them. Even distance relatives, who she may have spoken to a few times each year, are in touch more often.

“We kind of check-in in the morning, in the evenings, make sure that everything is there,” Khoma said.

“If something happens through the night, I always try to wake them up, see if they’ve heard the sirens and that they’re there in safety.”

Ukrainian Canadians under ‘enormous amounts of strain’

Many Ukrainian-Canadians have family and friends who have either been injured, wounded, killed or are living under Russian occupation, said Orest Zakydalsky, senior policy advisor with the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC).

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“That has an enormous amount of strain on people,” said Zakydalsky, whose organization describes itself as the representative of the Ukrainian-Canadian community.

“The other side of that is from coast to coast in Canada, our community is united and raising money to help people and welcoming refugees and organizing humanitarian assistance. It’s been an all hands on deck, 24/7 effort from our community.”

Click to play video: 'Russia gains ground in Donbas amid battle for Ukraine’s industrial heartland' Russia gains ground in Donbas amid battle for Ukraine’s industrial heartland
Russia gains ground in Donbas amid battle for Ukraine’s industrial heartland – Jun 1, 2022

Since the war began, Canada and its allies have rallied around Ukraine, supporting it with financial, lethal and non-lethal aid. They have also moved to punish Russia economically for starting the war at the cost of increasing the price of goods, like gasoline, in their homelands.

Canadians themselves have also been keen to support, be it from fundraising campaigns to donation drives, said Zakydalsky.

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While the community is “very grateful” for the response to date, Russia is showing no signs of slowing down, so a “strong response” needs to be maintained from Canada and the West, he added.

Read more: Russia ‘running out of ideas’ in 3-month-old war. Can Ukraine win?

To date, Russia controls about 20 per cent of Ukraine’s territory, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told Luxembourg’s parliament in a video address on Thursday.

Ukraine needs weapons like sophisticated long-range artillery, air defence and air support weapons, and naval defences to further fight off Russia’s advance, Zakydalsky said.

“The only thing left to do is to help Ukraine win and hopefully as quickly as possible, because the longer this war drags on, the more people are killed in Ukraine, the more the Ukrainian infrastructure and economy suffers and the more repercussions the rest of the world will feel,” he said.

“The way to bring this war to an end is to give Ukraine the tools and the support that it needs to win, and that’s really the only option. So to the extent that we have those weapons and we have the economic might to help Ukraine, now’s the time to do it.”

An aerial view shows damaged apartment buildings on May 26 in Chernihiv, Ukraine. Alexey Furman/Getty Images

Canada and its allies have promised to support Ukraine throughout the conflict, with Ottawa recently announcing a donation of more than 20,000 artillery rounds of 155 mm NATO standard ammunition, including fuses and charge bags, to help Ukraine’s military.

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Malyk and Khoma hope that 100 days from now, if the war is still going on, Canada and its allies will be there supporting Ukraine.

“The war is still there. It might not be as massive as it was in the first two months or so, but we don’t know when something big will happen,” Khoma said.

“If they use all their powers, we can finish this soon … and stop the deaths of children, women and all the horrible things that’s happening right now.”

— with files from Reuters

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