Montreal Ukrainians protest, pray for homeland
Published Saturday, March 1, 2014 6:00PM EST
Last Updated Sunday, March 2, 2014 5:35PM EST
Concerned about loved ones and a power struggle that has taken dozens of lives already, Montreal’s Ukrainian community is hoping for a swift resolution to the conflict in their homeland.
More than 100 angry protesters gathered in front of Montreal’s Russian consulate Sunday to join in protest against troops moving in.
They pushed signs through the bars of the wrought-iron fence and shed tears for people in danger half a world away.
“Ukrainians want to live in a free, democratic country. They want to have a normal democratic government,” said protester Gregory Kowryha.
Protesters brought up the Budapest Memorandum, an agreement signed between Ukraine, Russia and the U.S. in 1994.
“Ukraine gave up their nuclear weapons in return for security and non-aggression, and here we have Mr. Putin going against international law and invading Ukraine,” said protester Gene Osidacz.
Protesters also applauded Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to bring Canada's ambassador to Russia home and to stop Canada's participation in upcoming preparations for the G8 summit, a move severely criticized by some of Canada’s former diplomats.
“I think our government has to take a strong stance and it has to take the strongest stance, take every type of measure that freezes Russia out so that the cost of this kind of invasion of a sovereign country is increased so that the cost becomes too much for Putin to pay,” said protester Patricia Alexander.
Meantime, Sunday, parishioners at Ukrainian Orthodox church St. Mary the Protectress to comfort each other and pray. Every member of the church has a connection to their homeland because they either immigrated to Canada or still have friends and family that remain there.
“We're worried about what's going to happen to them. It's so uncertain and it's that uncertainty, waiting, not knowing what's going to happen that makes it extremely difficult,” said parishioner Alexander Melnyk.
On Saturday morning, students at Montreal’s Ukrainian School connected to their past, singing the words of 19th century Ukrainian poet and hero Taras Shevchenko.
In light of recent events, his words are poignant.
“To me it feels like history repeating itself, because this poet was always fighting for Ukraine’s freedom and was arrested for it, and even then he kept writing his poems,” said Ukrainian school student Sonya Kulycky.
The tight-knit community is mobilizing to help.
“We're there morally, mentally, psychologically,” said Nick Hladky of the Ukrainian School parents’ committee. “Some people are trying to go down there and help any way they can.”
They say they don’t want to see a war with Russia. Ukraine's relationship with Russia has always been complicated.
“Every time Russia wants to invade a neighbour, she gets a pro-Russian party in that country. She accuses the people of being persecuted by the regime and she organizes aid to those people, and that's what's happening now,” said Ukrainian historian and professor Roman Serbyn.
Though the country is divided ethnically and linguistically, in the end it will stay intact, said Serbyn.
“Most of the population of Crimea is not interested in going to Russia – even the Russian half of the population. Why? Because they know they see the liberty and freedom they have in Ukraine and Crimea and the lack of freedom they would have in Putin's Russia,” said Serbyn.
It's important for Ukrainians and Russians to unite, said Ukrainian activist Svetlana Kroichyk.
“All the Ukrainians living abroad currently are appealing to our friends, and friends from the Russian community, stand up and say to the government that Putin is not Russia and their politics are not necessarily will of people,” she said.