For Ukrainian-Calgarians, Thursday (August 24) was the second time they’ve gathered to mark their homeland’s independence from Moscow while Russians continue their all-out invasion.
And for Anastasiia Haiduchenko, who emceed the event that attracted about 250 people to Municipal Plaza, her story mirrors the hopes and challenges facing her country.
Last year, the 24-year-old woman fled Russian-occupied Kherson, a city liberated by Ukrainian troops last November but which remains under regular bombardment, menacing family members she left behind.
“Russians are trying to make (the war) longer, to make us tired but you can’t take freedom from Ukrainians, even when you occupy them,” said Haiduchenko.
“It’s like a crocodile trying to get its piece of meat from you. But we will win this war, it’s not an illusion.”
Thursday also marked the 18-month mark of the full invasion by Russian troops, who now find themselves mostly on the defensive, a reality that gave a boost to the crowd coloured in the yellow and blue of Ukraine’s flag.
Disarray and disunion within Russia symbolized by the possible assassination Wednesday of the Wagner mercenary group’s chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, who led a short-lived rebellion against Kremlin military leaders two months ago, also lent a spark of hope.
“It’s nice to hear that — one of the best ways for things to be resolved is (problems) within Russia itself,” said Danilo Moussienko, president of the Ukrainian-Canadian Congress (UCC’s) Calgary chapter.
“We hope Russian citizens, Russian people begin to stand up against Putin.”
At the same time, he said he’s under no illusions any major uprising within Russia will happen any time soon.
But Moussienko, Haiduchenko and others who spoke at the rally say they have no doubts about Canadians’ allegiance to the Ukrainians who’ve fled the war and settled in Canada — about 40,000 of them in Alberta.
“I consider the Ukrainian Canadian community in Calgary my new home,” said Haiduchenko.
She also noted the sacrifice of Canadians who’ve volunteered to fight alongside Ukrainian troops, citing Calgarian Kyle Porter, 27, who was killed by a Russian artillery barrage in April.
Mayor Jyoti Gondek delivered that message to the rally, condemning Russia’s onslaught that continues to strike civilians and Ukrainian soldiers alike.
“It’s immoral and unjustified and must be brought to an end,” said Gondek, adding the invasion affects far more than just Ukraine.
“This threat to democracy also threatens global energy and food sources and threatens every one of us.”
She was presented with a cloth of victory, hand-woven in Ukraine and by Ukrainian Calgarians.
One man in the crowd hoisted the blue and white flag of NATO, the military alliance supporting Ukraine’s struggle which has so far resisted making the country a member.
Moussienko said NATO’s support has been vital in ensuring Ukraine’s continued resistance but added more could be done by its members, including Canada which has provided $5 billion in assistance, including military and humanitarian aid.
“A lot of these things could be done a lot quicker, there’s no reason to delay them for so long,” he said, citing sophisticated weapons systems like fighter jets that are just now being promised.
Moussienko said the war has divided the Ukrainian and Russian communities in Calgary, with cooperation in things like religious services now severed.
But he said many individuals in the city’s Russian-Canadian community are quietly opposed to Russia’s invasion.
“A lot of them are opposed but they keep it to themselves out of fear,” said Moussienko, adding a few have spoken out at the UCCs Calgary gatherings.