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Monday, October 3, 2022

Ukrainian Canadians: between sadness and tireless help

Speaker during a protest against the Russian invasion of Ukraine in Montreal on February 27.ANDREY IVANOV (AFP)

Angel Zitinski has been running a sausage shop founded by his grandfather for 36 years. The business, located in the Rosemont neighborhood of Montreal, is a very popular destination for the Ukrainian community in this Canadian city. Zitinskaya’s family is originally from Ternopil, a city about 370 km west of Kyiv, although she herself was born in Canada. “There is a lot of sadness among my clients. Lots of uncertainty and despair. Before we started playing music, we were joking,” he says. “I have cousins ​​in Ukraine. I haven’t heard anything from them,” he adds.

Canada has the second largest diaspora of Ukrainians abroad (after Russia). According to the latest census, about 1.4 million people identified themselves as Canadians of Ukrainian origin. Many members of this diaspora, along with other Canadians, opposed the war in cities such as Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal and Halifax. Protests also took place outside the Russian embassy in Ottawa.

After the invasion, Canada imposed various sanctions against Moscow. “The Russian attack on Ukraine is also an attack on democracy, international law and freedom,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on February 24. Ottawa provided 100 million Canadian dollars (US$78 million) in humanitarian aid to the country under attack. He also ordered the supply of rocket launchers, machine guns and grenades. On Tuesday, he authorized an additional 50 million Canadian dollars ($39 million) for military equipment. Likewise, Trudeau often interacted with Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine. The Prime Minister of Canada said Tuesday in Riga, Latvia, that Vladimir Putin “made a serious mistake thinking that the Ukrainians are weak and that NATO is divided.” Trudeau is making an official visit to several European capitals this week. The Ukrainian issue is high on the agenda of this trip.

After several days of uncertainty, the Trudeau government on March 3 announced two programs to facilitate the arrival of Ukrainian refugees in Canada. The first is focused on temporary stay. People will be able to stay on Canadian soil for a maximum of two years with a work or study permit. The second is the accelerated procedure for family reunification in order to obtain permanent residence. Ukrainian-Canadian associations, immigrant advocacy organizations and the New Democratic Party have asked the government of Canada to cancel the visa required for Ukrainians to enter the country. However, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser indicated that such an arrangement was not possible for security reasons.

Fraser stressed that Canada is ready to accept as many Ukrainians as needed. The provincial and municipal governments have said they will support this task. “We will welcome refugees from Ukraine with open arms,” said Heather Stefanson, Prime Minister of Manitoba. Stefanson’s momentum is not surprising: his province has the country’s largest population of Ukrainian origin. The Canadian Red Cross, the Canadian-Ukrainian Foundation, and the Canadian-Ukrainian Congress, among other organizations, are asking for donations. Orthodox churches in Canada continue to receive clothing, durables, personal care products and children’s products.

“We collect two types of support. The first one is the most urgent: what do those who stayed in Ukraine or came to neighboring countries need now. It is best to donate money to purchase and distribute this aid. The second is what people need when they come to Canada,” says Katherine Smolinets, president of the Montreal branch of the Ukrainian National Federation of Canada. Many Canadian families have signed up to receive Ukrainians in their homes. “Many help. On Tuesday, a Vietnamese gentleman came to leave a donation. She ran away from here in tears. It is very likely that he remembered something from his life,” says Angel Zitinski. Canada sheltered about 60,000 people after the fall of Saigon. It has also received contingents from countries such as Chile, Iran, Haiti and, most recently, Syria.

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The first Ukrainians arrived in Canada in 1891. Other migratory waves have increased their number. Katherine Smolinets’ parents arrived at the one that sparked World War II. On December 2, 1991, Canada became the first Western country to recognize the independence of Ukraine. Several familiar faces are part of the Ukrainian-Canadian community. One of them is Wayne Gretzky, considered by many fans to be the greatest hockey player of all time. The other is the late Alex Trebek, an American TV show host for decades. Danger!

Chrystia Freeland, finance minister, deputy prime minister and former foreign minister, is also part of this group. She is the granddaughter of Ukrainians; her mother, who was born in a refugee camp in Germany, became a well-known activist in the Ukrainian community in Canada. Freeland, like few others, participated in the confrontation with Russia for its aggression against Ukraine. In 2014, Canada imposed trade sanctions and banned some Russian citizens from entering the country following the invasion of Crimea. In response, Moscow vetoed some Canadians. Chrystia Freeland appeared on the list. “Ukraine and I are in this fight,” tweeted on Wednesday by what many see as Trudeau’s natural successor.

In recent days, two Orthodox churches and a Russian community center have been vandalized in Canada after Vladimir Putin’s invasion began. The Ukrainian-Canadian Congress opposed these events, condemning acts of vandalism, violence and harassment against any community. “We are overwhelmed and stressed with all the work to send humanitarian aid. We have neither the time nor the desire to create tension in relations with the Russian community,” says Katherine Smolinets.

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