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Lest We Forget. Ukrainian Canadians have played a major role in defending democracy throughout Canada’s history

Nov 15, 2023 | Featured, Editorials

A Ukrainian Canadian bomber command crew checks a map before a mission. (Photo: Public domain)

Marco Levytsky, Editorial Writer.

At 11:00 am on November 11, Canadians and members of other Commonwealth countries stopped for two minutes of silence to pay tribute to the countless soldiers who laid down their lives so the rest of us could live in freedom.

The tradition of Remembrance Day evolved out of Armistice Day which marked the end of hostilities for the First World War on that date in 1918. Hostilities formally ended “at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month”, in accordance with the armistice signed by representatives of Germany and the Entente. In 1931, the federal parliament adopted an act to amend the Armistice Day Act, providing that the day should be observed on November 11 and that the day should be known as Remembrance Day.

Throughout the history of our country, generations of Canadians answered the call to duty and defended our liberty. They fought with valour and courage. This includes Ukrainian Canadians whose sacrifice we must remember especially in these perilous times.
During the First World War Ukrainians were unjustifiably classified as “enemy aliens”. As a result about 5,000 Ukrainian men and some women and children of Austro-Hungarian citizenship were kept in 24 internment camps and related work sites – also known, at the time, as concentration camps. Another 80,000 were left at large but were registered as “enemy aliens” and obliged to report regularly to the police.

But when Canada declared war on Germany on September 10, 1939 – one week after Great Britain entered World War II, the scars of the First World War internment were still fresh and Ukrainian Canadians were determined to prove their loyalty in a significant way.

Over 40,000 Canadians of Ukrainian descent served in the Canadian military to fight for Canada against Nazi, Fascist and Imperial Japanese tyrannies. The Ukrainian enlistment percentage was the highest of any ethnic group outside of the British. In 1940, the Ukrainian Canadian Committee (now Congress) was created to unite loyal Ukrainian Canadians behind the war effort. This was because a sizeable number of Ukrainian Canadians belonged to the pro-Soviet Ukrainian Labour and Farmer-Temple Association (ULFTA) which opposed the “imperialist war” as long as Nazi Germany and the USSR remained allied. They backed the Canadian war effort only after the Soviet Union was invaded in June 1941.

Ukrainian Canadians certainly paid their dues. Many died in some of the most brutal battles of the war. To mention just a few:

Hong Kong: The Battle of Hong Kong (December 8 – 25, 1941) was one of the first battles of the Pacific War. The Hong Kong garrison consisted of British, Indian and Canadian units, also the Auxiliary Defence Units and Hong Kong Voluntary Defence Corps. The Canadian troops consisted of a battalion of the Royal Rifles of Canada (from Quebec) and one of the Winnipeg Grenadiers – many of whom were of Ukrainian origin. They defended Hong Kong valiantly but, in the end, had to surrender to vastly superior forces. Of the Canadians captured during the battle, 267 subsequently perished in Japanese prisoner of war camps, mainly due to maltreatment and starvation.

Dieppe: The Dieppe Raid (August 19, 1942) was an Allied amphibious attack on the German-occupied port of Dieppe, northern France. Over 6,050 infantry, predominantly Canadian, were put ashore. The operation was a disaster. Within ten hours, 3,623 had been killed, wounded or became prisoners of war. While visiting the Dieppe Canadian War Cemetery in France, Lieutenant-General Paul Francis Wynnyk, the former Commander of the Canadian Army, was struck by the number of Ukrainian surnames among the monuments to the dead. And that doesn’t even reflect the true number of Ukrainian Canadians who died at Dieppe. Aside from those whose mothers married non-Ukrainians, many Ukrainians anglicized their surnames to avoid discrimination.

D-Day: This was the largest amphibious invasion in the history of warfare and Canadians were punching way above their weight. Despite being dwarfed in terms of population by the United States and the United Kingdom, Canadians took full responsibility for the attack on one of the five beaches allied forces landed on. This was Juno Beach and Ukrainian Canadians made a giant contribution to this effort.

After the war, several Ukrainian Legion branches were set up because many Ukrainian Canadians did not feel welcome in those that existed at that time.

Three years ago, the Ukrainian Canadian Research and Documentation Centre (UCRDC) premiered online the documentary “A Canadian War Story”, which is a remarkable chronicle of the extraordinary contributions of Ukrainian Canadians to Canada’s Second World War effort. The film is based on first person testimonials of Ukrainian Canadian soldiers and chronicles their experiences in service to Canada in Second World War. Spanning continents and generations, the film recounts the remarkable Ukrainian Canadian coming of age journey from Europe to Canada and to the battlefields of Europe and Asia. The film is distributed by McIntyre Media ( and can also be obtained from the Ukrainian Research and Documentation Centre (

This year, when Ukrainians themselves are fighting for their very existence against a genocidal Muscovite dictatorship, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) and the Ukrainian War Veterans Association of Canada (UWVA) together launched the Ukrainian Canadian Sacrifice Medal and opened a Call for Design Proposals. Seven have been received and the winner will be announced soon.

“Many Canadians have volunteered to fight for Ukraine’s freedom in the ranks of Ukraine’s Foreign Legion. Several have heroically given their lives or been wounded. The Ukrainian Canadian Sacrifice Medal is our community’s opportunity to honour their bravery and valour,” stated Taras Jackiw, Chair of the Medal Committee and Treasurer of the UWVA. “Generations of Canadians have courageously defended freedom against tyranny – today, many do so valiantly in Ukraine, and we are forever grateful for their service.”

So, as we honor all those Canadians who paid the ultimate price for freedom and democracy, let us not forget that today hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians are also paying the ultimate price for freedom and democracy. Their values are our values and their battle is our battle. Therefore, we must do everything to ensure that their sacrifice will not be in vain.

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