Ukrainian-Canadians in Ontario call on Ottawa to do more to help Ukraine fend off Russia

·4 min read
Varvara Shmygalova, a Toronto resident, wears a traditional Ukrainian head piece at a Holodomor commemoration in Ottawa. Holodomor was a famine in Soviet Ukraine that killed millions from 1932 to 1933. (Submitted by Varvara Shmygalova - image credit)
Varvara Shmygalova, a Toronto resident, wears a traditional Ukrainian head piece at a Holodomor commemoration in Ottawa. Holodomor was a famine in Soviet Ukraine that killed millions from 1932 to 1933. (Submitted by Varvara Shmygalova - image credit)

Members of Ontario's Ukrainian community say the Canadian government should do more to help Ukraine as Russia amasses troops near the border.

Ihor Michalchyshyn, executive director and CEO of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC), said in Ottawa on Monday that the federal government should send defensive weapons to Ukraine and impose additional sanctions on Russia.

Canada needs to send a strong message to Russian President Vladimir Putin, he said.

"We've seen the United Kingdom, the United States, NATO allies, G7 allies, send defensive weapons to Ukraine that will help them defend themselves in the case of an invasion. And we think very strongly that Canada needs to join that list very quickly," he said.

Additional sanctions, the kind that are usually applied in an internationally coordinated way after an invasion, could be imposed on Russia before it makes any more moves, he said.

"Our perspective is, though, of course, to do these things now to dissuade Putin so that he knows the cost of an invasion is so high that he will back down and sends his troops back to barracks."

Russia has massed an estimated 100,000 troops near Ukraine's border, demanding that NATO promise it will not allow Ukraine to join the organization.

Situation is of great concern, community leader says

Outside of Ukraine and Russia, Canada has the world's largest Ukrainian population. About 1.3 million inhabitants identified as Ukrainian-Canadians in the 2016 census. Michalchyshyn said the community is extremely worried.

"People are concerned about their friends and family, most immediately. They are stressed about reading the news," he said.

"Every day, it seems there is further Russian escalation in terms of more troops or more rhetoric. They are waiting for the government of Canada to make a decision on sending further assistance and taking actions," he said.

Michalchyshyn noted, however, that Ukrainians are very resilient. He said they have lived with war in eastern Ukraine for the past eight years, a conflict that followed the Russian invasion and occupation of Crimea in 2014, and most know a soldier who has been wounded or killed in that armed conflict.

"It is a live war. People are dying every day," he said.

To protest against the occupation of Crimea, Canada has slapped sanctions on Russian individuals and entities, according to the federal government's website.

The UCC launched a campaign on the weekend called "#StandwithUkraine" that encourages Canadians to show their support for the country.

"Russia is our northern neighbour. And we need to see this as not just a community issue. This is indeed a security issue, a NATO issue, a border issue for us in terms of the countries that we border," Michalchyshyn said.

Canada has announced $120M loan to Ukraine

On Monday, according to Reuters, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the federal government would have more to say about assistance for Ukraine in the coming days but provided no details.

Trudeau has indicated he is not following the lead of the U.S. government and has not yet ordered the families of embassy personnel in Ukraine to leave.

But he said several contingency plans are in place to protect Canadian diplomats and their families as concerns rise about a possible Russian invasion.

According to Trudeau, Canada is extremely concerned about the Russian aggression, but he did not answer questions about whether Canada would send weapons to Ukraine or extend a Canadian training mission in the country.

On Friday, the Canadian government announced a $120-million loan as a first instalment of assistance to Ukraine.

Russia has denied it is planning an invasion and has said the Western accusations are a cover for NATO's own planned provocation.

Varvara Shmygalova, a member of Ukrainian Canadian community in Toronto, said she is concerned about the buildup of troops. She left the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, five years ago but said her parents, grandparents and all of her friends are still there.

Efrem Lukatsky/Associated Press
Efrem Lukatsky/Associated Press

"We are really afraid that Russia will make a move and invade with a new wave of the military actions in Ukraine, and obviously we will try to do everything to prevent that because that means death of civilians and military, just deaths of Ukrainians.," she said.

Shmygalova said she has a message to family and friends still in Ukraine: "My message is: try to stay as safe as you can because I love you and I want you to be alive. But also, I want you to do everything you can to protect our home country and protect all the values of all democratic nations."

Her overall message is: "Stand with Ukraine. Stand with us. Show your support. Show that you care."