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Ukrainian communities watch, wonder how far Canada will go to protect their ancestral homeland – Toronto Star

A Ukrainian soldier stands in the trench on the line of separation from pro-Russian rebels Friday, in Mariupol, in Donetsk region.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this week pledged Canadian support for Ukraine and said he feared Russia’s potential plans for armed conflict.

By Jeremy NuttallVancouver Bureau

Sat., Jan. 22, 20224 min. read

Article was updated 8 hrs ago

A danger lurks near Ukraine these days, though an uninformed observer might be forgiven for not noticing.

In the streets of Lviv, in the country’s west, people are going about their daily business, even as a standoff between Vladimir Putin’s Russia and western allies threatens to bring war to their doorstep, says Christine Eliashevsky.

“Many Ukrainians are probably anxious, but they will not admit it, because they have been through so many ups and downs in 30 years of independence,” Eliashevsky told the Star from her home in Lviv.

“And Russia has always been there and Russia is not going anywhere.”

A retired Ukrainian Canadian from Toronto, Eliashevsky lives off and on in Ukraine and is an editor and translator for Euromaidan Press, an English-language news site covering events in the country.

Eliashevsky is one of many glued to the news, watching each development with deep concern as Moscow continually threatens war. Last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he considered Russians and Ukrainians “one people” and this idea causes her more worry.

“This was a very important speech,” Eliashevsky warned, explaining it indicated Putin is not intending to back down.

Christine Eliashevsky is a Ukrainian-Canadian who says Ottawa needs to help Ukraine in its struggle against Russia.

Ukrainians in this country are watching intently, too, for there are deep and historic ties stretching across the Atlantic that bind Canada and Ukraine.

In the late 1800s, Canada courted Ukrainian immigrants to both develop the Prairies and populate it, over fears the United States would try to move into the region.

This country has seen many waves of Ukrainian immigration since then, resulting in a significant diaspora.

Eliashevsky said she remembers stories passed down through her family of Canadian recruiters coming to villages in Ukraine seeking locals to move to Canada to work, stories reflecting the experience of the country’s Ukrainian communities.

During the 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukrainians again relocated to Canada as economic turmoil and uncertainty hung over their homeland. Canada became the first western country to recognize its independence in 1991.

About 1.4 million Canadians identify as Ukrainian, says Jars Balan, the former director of the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian studies at the University of Alberta. The number is probably higher when those who came to Canada via Ukraine, but are from different backgrounds, is taken into account.

“All three (Canadian political) parties have to deal with an aware Ukrainian community that has its defined interests,” Balan said. The government “needs to take them seriously because there are political consequences.”

There have been calls from that community for further actions to deter Moscow.

Olesia Luciw-Andryjowycz, second vice-president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, said further invasion of Ukraine by Russia could lead to a humanitarian disaster. Luciw-Andryjowycz said increased sanctions against Russia and more international support is needed.

She said Ukrainians aren’t asking Canada, the U.S. or other countries to fight for them, but they are asking for weapons to help defend themselves. So far, Ukrainians in Canada have been working to help through fundraising for medical treatment and other necessities.

“The Ukrainian diaspora is carrying a large burden. And nobody’s complaining,” she said. “We may be Canadians, but we’re Ukrainians as well and will be there to support if it’s financially or morally or politically.”

In 2014, Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine. It has threatened to further invade the country, demanding it not be allowed to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, to which much of Europe belongs, and to have NATO withdraw military infrastructure from countries that border Russia.

Russia currently occupies nearly 10 per cent of Ukraine’s territory, and almost 14,000 people have been killed in violence between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed rebels in the east since the annexation.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this week pledged Canadian support for Ukraine and said he feared Russia’s plans.

“Yes, we do fear an armed conflict in Ukraine,” Trudeau said Wednesday. “Russia is looking for excuses or reasons to continue and even escalate its aggression against Ukraine.”

Global Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly visited Ukraine earlier this week to meet Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal.

On Friday, Trudeau announced a $120-million loan to help its economy in response to a Ukrainian request for aid to help fight Russian aggression. The money is on top of 200 Canadian military personnel there to train Ukraine’s soldiers.

Marcus Kolga, president of the Central and Eastern European Council in Canada, has been an outspoken critic of Canada’s response.

Kolga said there are more measures Ottawa can take to hamstring Russia, such as cutting off part of Putin’s cash flow by sanctioning Russian oligarchs who have money in Canada.

“Placing sanctions on those oligarchs so that they can’t access their assets here in Canada will, I think, actually cause Vladimir Putin to very quickly change his calculus on his path to war,” he said.

Canada must also send “lethal defensive weapons,” he said, such as anti-aircraft systems that Canada has, which Ukrainian soldiers have already been trained how to operate.

Kolga said it’s important Canada take such actions now rather than waiting until Russia makes a move against Ukraine.

Meanwhile, fearful of what that move may be as she watches events unfold from her home in Lviv, Eliashevsky is worried that not enough is being done to help.

“Ukraine needs military assistance, it’s only with the help and support of its western partners that it will be able to defend itself,” she said. “Western support is more precious than ever and Ukrainians realize it.”

With files from Tonda MacCharles, Kieran Leavitt and The Associated Press


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