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Montreal city councillor blasts Ukrainian anthem in front of Russian Consulate

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Montreal city councillor Serge Sasseville stood alone in front of the Russian Consulate Tuesday, flipped on a small speaker and turned up the volume as the Ukrainian national anthem sounded through the neighbourhood.

"Slava Ukraini (Glory to Ukraine)," he yelled after the recording played the first time. "Stand with Ukraine," he shouted after a second playing. "Stop the war," he added after a final rendition.

It is a ritual Sasseville has been repeating daily for the past week over the lunch hour, and there are signs the consulate's occupants are not amused.

Consulate staff confirmed Tuesday they've seen and heard Sasseville several times outside their building's gates. A representative, who declined to provide a name, said they have not responded to his protest, as it is his right to play music.

Sasseville, however, said the consulate fought back on Friday and blasted music at him through the front gate intercom.

The consulate representative insisted that was just a coincidence.

"It was not intended," she said. "We have a really small staff. We have no time for such a childish game."

Sasseville's house is across the street from the consulate in downtown Montreal, and he said that since Russia's invasion began on Feb. 24, he has seen hundreds of protesters leaving flags and candles outside the building.

But the items of defiance, Sasseville said, met the same fate each day. The consulate's staff repeatedly removed everything, "like if nothing had happened."

"I decided, not as a politician, not as an official, but as a citizen that I had to do something," Sasseville said in an interview.

He hung four Ukrainian flags on the top windows of his house on March 12 -- in plain sight of the Russian consulate -- before taking his action to the street.

"There's no small gesture, everything counts," Sasseville said. "We have to make it publicly known that we support the Ukrainian people, that we are against the war, and that it has to stop."

The consulate representative refused to comment on the invasion but said officials have had a bigger role to play recently. Since the invasion, she said, members of the Russian diaspora in Montreal have been receiving hateful messages. "Insults, menaces, intimidation at children's schools," the representative said.

Marks of thrown eggs were visible on some of the consulate's windows, while the front gate was splattered in red paint.

Sasseville said videos circulating online of him playing the anthem have prompted messages of support from around the world but also some hateful messages on social media. He said he's been insulted over his sexual orientation, called a neo-Nazi and told he should be ashamed of the Ukrainian flags.

"`But I'm also receiving messages from Ukrainians, thanking me for what I do, that it comforts them to see the support that we have here in Montreal," Sasseville said.

Meanwhile, Eric Boyko, a Montreal businessman who is of Ukrainian descent, announced Tuesday that 18 local companies are uniting to sponsor 1,000 families affected by the conflict.

The United Nations refugee agency said Tuesday more than 3.5 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia's invasion, the worst displacement of Europeans since the Second World War.

Boyko said each business will welcome up to 80 families when they arrive in Quebec in the coming weeks, providing jobs, food and access to lodging.

"As we watched the conflict unfold and witnessed the forced displacement of millions of Ukrainians, we could not stand by without doing our part," Boyko said.

-- This report by The Canadian Press was first published on March 22, 2022. 

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