Students should pressure their political representatives to provide more support to Ukraine to help fight the ongoing Russian invasion, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Wednesday, speaking virtually to an in-person audience at the University of Toronto.
Zelenskyy said Ukraine needs more weapons, financial support, humanitarian aid, and permanent sanctions on Russia.
“It’s very important that yourselves, students from many other countries, would pass on this message to their respective countries to pressure their political management to give Ukraine what it needs,” he said.
“With your actions, please do not allow anyone somewhere on the hierarchy of bureaucratic corridors to forget about what’s going on in Ukraine, to forget about war. Please don’t become tired because of the war.”
Speaking over a video link, Zelenskyy was greeted with a standing ovation by about 250 people who attended the event at University of Toronto’s Munk School.
Students at 10 other universities across Canada, including the Universite de Montreal, the University of Alberta, Western University and Dalhousie University, took part virtually.
He later answered questions from students on different topics including the role of internet and social media in the war, how international organizations can be improved to prevent similar conflicts and the future of Ukraine.
Speaking at the event, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said Canada has committed $1.87 billion in financial assistance to Ukraine, of which $1.5 billion has already been delivered to the country.
“That is more than any other country has managed to send into the bank account of the government of Ukraine,” she said.
Freeland said democratic countries, including Canada, cannot allow Russian President Vladimir Putin to succeed in his war that aims to defeat democracy in Ukraine.
“I want to say to President Zelenskyy and I want to say President Vladimir Putin, who I think is probably listening to us as well, that for as long as it takes Canada will be there for Ukraine,” she said.
“We will persist. We will not tire.”
Students from 10 other universities across Canada took part virtually, including the Universite de Montreal, the University of Alberta, Western University and Dalhousie University.
University of Toronto president Meric Gertler said the institution has a “special connection” with the Ukrainian president and that his country has demonstrated “incredible bravery” fighting off the Russian aggression.
Last month, the institution announced a program to welcome more than 200 students whose studies were disrupted by the war in Ukraine, and a group of 20 students arrived in Toronto from Kyiv last month.
Kateryna Nekhomiazh, a Ukrainian exchange student who was among a group of 20 that arrived in May to study at the University of Toronto, said her family is relatively safe now in the Ukrainian capital.
“I don’t know when is going to be the last time I talk to them. There aren’t any troops in Kyiv but there are bombs,” she said in an interview.
She said people in the eastern and southern parts of Ukraine, including some of her friends’ families, are struggling to survive.
“They have really hard times. (The) world should know about it and not forget,” she said.
“Every time I read news, I watch videos, about what’s happening, I’m grateful to God, to the university, that I’m safe, but I really want everyone to be safe.”
Luis Sanchez, an international relations student at University of Toronto, said he felt moved and inspired after watching the Ukrainian president speak.
“A lot of people may feel the war fatigue. A couple months ago maybe it was more prominent on the news,” he said, “Seeing Zelenskyy be able to sort of address the live audience especially in Canada sort of brings back how urgent this is.”