Myroslava Stadnyk, Toronto
On Saturday, November 29, 2014, members of the Ukrainian Canadian community, together with honorable guests and Canadian government representatives, commemorated the first anniversary of the Euromaidan movement and those who sacrificed their lives in the battle for Ukraine’s democratic ideals.
The event took place at the Taras Shevchenko Ukrainian Community Centre in Toronto and was organized by the Euromaidan Canada Committee (Toronto) – a branch of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC). During the commemoration, guests also honoured the memory of the brave soldiers whose lives were lost in the war in Donbas. An ecumenical prayer was led by Fr. Volodymyr Yanishevsky – pastor of the Ukrainian Canadian Catholic Church, Fr. Walter Makarenko from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada, Fr. Juvenal Merriell from the Roman Catholic Church, evangelical pastor Oleksij Maksymyshyn and Mehmet Gul, the Muslim Imam.
During this event, a special candle, which was first lit on the Maidan in Kyiv during the prayers and later travelled to the Vatican where the Holy Father, Pope Francis, offered prayers for peace in Ukraine, was lit up to remember the Heavenly Hundred who died during Euromaidan. This candle signifies unity in prayer, asking for God’s blessings and protection of Ukraine and the people of Ukraine.
“Today we continue to pray. Ukraine is in our thoughts. Since this time last year, we, the Ukrainian-Canadian diaspora and the members of the Euromaidan Canada-Toronto branch, continue working around the clock to assist Ukraine” – said Markian Swec, the head of the Euromaidan Canada Committee in Toronto. Swec thanked community members for their support, as $2.25 million have been collected across Canada to help Ukraine within one year. “These funds went to front-line people,” he added, “primary to the Maidan, to Crimea to help the Tatar community, the Ukrainian army and navy, and to help soldiers in eastern Ukraine.” Mr. Swec also extended thanks to Canadians of non-Ukrainian descent, which continue to help Ukraine.
The Acting Consul General of Ukraine in Toronto, Liudmyla Davydovych, brought greetings and appreciation on behalf of the Government of Ukraine – thanking the Canadian government and the community for helping Ukraine in the time of difficulty. Liudmyla Davydovych feels hopeful of the westward course Ukraine has set upon, as the new government begins to implement new policies. She believes that the future is bright for the country, as Ukrainians have united and share faith in democracy.
For many Ukrainians, the past year has been a time of heightened patriotic sentiments. Many Canadians of Ukrainian descent have also united as the result of the Euromaidan protests. Headed by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, the Toronto community held over 80 protests and demonstrations over the past year. In his statement, Paul Grod, the president of UCC, highlighted that Canada continues to supports Ukraine: “even though Ukraine won the bitter sweet victory of the human dignity, a bitter sweet victory which came at the expense of many Ukrainians who perished on the Maidan and across Ukraine during this revolution.”
Although it was a victory, Ukraine still needs a lot of support on a number of fronts due to the war with the Russian aggressor. Mr. Grod called on everyone to continue fighting the struggle – the struggle he believes will persist over a long period of time. “Putin isn’t leaving Crimea any time soon, and his interests in Ukraine continue to grow,” said Grod. He further asked people to continue working with local organizations to create unity: “because that unity is the reason why we’ve been successful in working with the Canadian government – provincial and municipal governments.”
Etobicoke Centre Conservative MP Ted Opitz, whose riding has a significant Ukrainian constituency, attended the ceremony and condemned the actions of the Russian Federation under President Vladimir Putin’s rule, and urged the Ukrainian diaspora to stand strong. He called upon the Ukrainian government to continue moving forward and to protect what was won at such a high price – the dignity.
Mr. Opitz further thanked the community for the many calls requesting action by Canada. He confirmed that “30,000 units of equipment, including thermal goggles were sent to Ukraine,” referring to the latest shipment of $22 million worth of cold-weather gear Canada has sent to support the Ukrainian army. He also commented on Canada’s strong commitment to stand with the people of Ukraine, reassuring that there is a consistent discussion on what is next in terms of a providing support for Ukraine’s armed forces fighting pro-Russian separatists in the country’s east.
Peggy Nash, Member of Parliament from the New Democratic Party, who has been a long-time supporter of Ukraine’s pro-democracy movement, addressed community leaders and guests, expressing how moved she was by the commemoration of peace and social justice. Peggy Nash underlined the appropriateness of having leaders representing many different faiths. She believes that through faith, the Ukrainian nation has expressed courage and determination, which allowed them to continue to fight. “Today, one year later, we honour those who fell, and we also remind ourselves that so much has been achieved.”
Peggy Nash also added that she is very proud of the Ukrainian Canadian community for providing constant physical and emotional support to the families of those who died, to the wounded, to the refugees and others in need. In addition, Nash underlined the importance of a continuous action by the international community. “One, it is important to stand firm against Putin and the foreign aggression of Ukraine, and we cannot ever accept the loss of Crimea or the loss of the territories in the east. We have to stand firm in solidarity with Ukraine!”
Peggy Nash also touched on the importance of sanctions, and the support Canada is ready to give in terms of helping build democracy and offering a great deal to help for the Ukrainian people to overcome the economic crisis.
The provincial representative, Peter Milczyn (Etobicoke-Lakeshore), was also among the invited speakers. Mr. Milczyn welcomed the colleagues from the government and extended greetings from Kathleen Wynne, the premier of Ontario: “On behalf of the government of Ontario, I am proud to extend warm greetings to everyone commemorating the first anniversary of the Euromaidan revolution, the revolution of dignity… in Kyiv, standing in solidarity, peacefully to defend democracy, the human rights and Ukraine’s future as a nation.” In his remarks, Mr. Milczyn also underlined that the Ontarians take great pride in the relationship they share with Ukraine and its people – and therefore are ready to continue supporting Ukraine on all levels, for as long as it takes.
The newly elected Liberal MPP for Etobicoke Centre, Yvan Baker, also spoke on the importance of a continuous action in protecting Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Appealing to the Ukrainian Canadian community, Baker took an opportunity to thank everyone for their determination in holding events and demonstrations, raising funds and demanding sanctions, as well as widely raising awareness and brining up the issue to all levels of the Canadian government. “You’ve mobilized people outside the Ukrainian community, people who were ready to help and to take action,” Baker concluded by thanking the community.
The event followed with a speech by Rustem Irsay, representing the Crimean Tatar Community of Toronto, who spoke about the community’s support for the ideals of democracy, rights, freedoms and unity of the Ukrainian people for which they have fought for on the Maidan. “The Crimean Tatars have supported a course the Ukrainian people have chosen – we stood up during the Orange Revolution and revolted against the Yanukovych regime in 2013, because our nation values freedom,” stated Irsay.
He also added that, today, the Crimean Tatars continue to advocate for their rights, as “…the Crimean Peninsula is in captivity, and (our) people are threatened, arrested, deported, tortured and killed.” Irsay explained that the terror many Crimean Tatars are facing under Russian annexation is also forcing their leaders to leave their homeland. He ended his speech by extending his gratitude to the Ukrainian Canadian diaspora for helping Ukraine, and, in so many ways, the Crimean Tatars.
Petro Schturyn, a member of the Euromaidan group, further went over the financial specifics with regards to the collections the Euromaidan Canada (Toronto) Committee in conjunction with the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (Toronto) were able to get through the countless events and fundraisers. “In a quick synopsis, we’ve collected $245,000 in total – from many different sources, including online and our demonstrations. These donations were sent to the various organizations and volunteer groups in Ukraine to support immediate needs.” Peter Schturyn also said the Committee continues to work hard to ensure aid reaches people in the most economical and effective way.
Further, Myroslava Khomik of Euromaidan talked about an initiative that involves sending children’s letters to soldiers on the eastern Ukrainian front lines. She explained that this project is ongoing, and they hope to collect many children’s drawings before Christmas. “These letters are seen as something more than just moral support,” she said, “for many soldiers, these drawings and letters serve a protective meaning in wartime.”
Presentation on other projects, including supplying Kobo Readers for soldiers and “Adopt a Soldier” initiative (which can be found through the Euromaidan Canada website), was shown in the later part of the event. As well, Dr. Ulana Kawun and Renata Roman briefly talked about the medical aid mission, which took part in November – with 22 Canadian professionals going to Kyiv on a mission to help the brave soldiers.
The most anticipated speaker of the event was Valeriy Chobotar – a guest from Ukraine – a member of the political party “Pravyj Sector” and a commander of the 5th Battalion, which is currently defending the Donetsk airport. He discussed the continuous impact of war on Ukraine, and said that the whole nation is feeling the tension of Russian invasion. “For four months, the intense actions have been ongoing,” said Valeriy Chobotar. “We continue to fight the pro-Russian rebels in very severe conditions, and constantly require medical aid, supplies and emotional support.”
Valeriy Chobotar concluded by expressing appreciation for the support by Canadians on behalf of the front-line soldiers, volunteers and those who did not return from the combat. He said that it is very unfortunate that he had to witness on several occasions how mini-sponges of Celox were used to stop the bleeding, but those fortunately saved many lives on the battlefield. “These were the bandages the Ukrainian Canadian community supplied us with,” Valeriy Chobotar said, “You saved many lives!”
The commemoration ended by a special thank you note from Markian Swec, the Euromaidan Canada leader, reminding guests that the event is not a celebration, even though so much has been accomplished. Swec concluded by saying that our community needs to work together to continue helping Ukraine in various ways – as the goals of the Euromaidan have not yet been completely achieved, and there remains much work to be done.