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Two Ukrainian churches vandalized in Canada

Jul 6, 2021 | Community, Featured

New Pathway – Ukrainian News.

On June 18, a 100-year-old St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church in Fisher Branch, in Manitoba’s Interlake region, was vandalized; windows were smashed and numerous items within the church were damaged.

Overnight, between June 30 and July 1, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church in Calgary was vandalized with red paint, while the property was defaced, including a memorial plaque commemorating Canada’s first national internment operations.

The Ukrainian Canadian organizations have issued public statements with calls on law enforcement agencies to fully investigate these attacks and with their positions in regard to the tragedies endured by Canada’s indigenous peoples because of the residential
school system.

In its statement, Ukrainian Canadian Congress said: “These are places of worship, where people gather to pray and to reflect. For their parishioners they are places of peace and spiritual unity. To desecrate these places is unacceptable and has no place in Canada.”
Ukrainian Canadian Congress – Alberta Provincial Council provided the statement by National Chief Perry Bellegarde that the destruction of property will not help to build relationships between communities.

The Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association (UCCLA) called on law enforcement to investigate the incidents as hate crimes.

“What happened to indigenous peoples as a result of the residential school system is appalling and we support their efforts to secure a recognition for what they suffered,” said Roman Zakaluzny, chairman of UCCLA. “But to desecrate churches and frighten their peaceful congregants is appalling and must be investigated as a hate crime against an identifiable group, specifically Ukrainian Canadians. Those responsible for this vandalism are obviously ignorant – the Ukrainian Catholic Church is independent of the Roman Catholic Church and no parish of our Ukrainian Catholic Church in Canada was ever involved in the creation, management, or functioning of any of the residential schools in this country.

“The UCCLF placed more than 100 plaques across Canada, like the one defaced in Calgary, to commemorate Canada’s first national internment operations of 1914-1920, whose victims were mainly Ukrainians and other Europeans. The systemic racism our community suffered resulted in thousands of innocents being jailed, then forced to do heavy labour for the benefit of their jailers, all across Canada. The irony is that this plaque, memorializing this dark chapter in Canada’s history, was also defaced, by those whose appreciation of the history of this country seems rather purblind.

The defaced memorial plaque commemorating Canada’s first national internment operations which was placed at the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church in Calgary in 2014

“The Ukrainian Canadian community wants the federal government to help restore the burial sites of all the victims of Canada’s first national internment operations. An internee cemetery established at Spirit Lake, in Quebec’s Abitibi region, by Ottawa’s men, holds the remains of at least 16 internees, including children, although the whereabouts of at least one child, Nellie Manko, remain uncertain. Despite repeated requests from the Ukrainian Canadian community for government assistance in restoring, properly marking, and hallowing this unique historical site, no action has been taken. Why should this internee cemetery be forgotten? This internee cemetery is rapidly deteriorating and will soon vanish into boreal forest. That is unacceptable.

“Now that a $27-million federal fund has been established to locate, restore, and properly commemorate burial places where those innocent of any wrongdoing were buried, the UCCLA is again asking the federal Heritage Minister, the Honourable Steven Guilbeault, to address our concerns with respect to the Spirit Lake internee cemetery, to ensure that this site is properly protected and the remains of those buried there are not lost to indifference, ignorance, or prejudice. Ukrainian Canadian victims of unjust federal policies and decisions are no less worthy of being remembered than those who suffered similar indignities, regardless of ‘race, creed or colour,’” Zakaluzny said.

The volunteers have recently been cleaning up the exterior of the vandalized Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church in Calgary which was defaced on June 30 – July 1.

While residents of the Interlake community of Fisher Branch are hoping they will be able to restore the historic St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic church after it was vandalized on June 18.

The church in Fisher Branch had windows broken and items, as well as hand-done paintings on the wall, had been damaged while the entrance door was ripped off.

The vandalized Ukrainian Catholic Church in Fisher Branch, Man. (Photo: Ron Malkowich / CTV)

Cliff Skibinski, the president of the church council told CTV that the church, which was declared a historic site in 1997, was built around 1913 by the great-grandparents of the current parishioners. The church closed its doors for regular service a few years ago but it is still held in high regard in the community.

In the days since the vandalism, Skibinski said the community has rallied – with one neighbour buying wood and boarding up all the broken windows at the church so rain wouldn’t get in.

Ron Malkowich, the church’s attendee, said the town will likely do some fundraising to cover the cost of repairing the damage.

Police say the investigation into the vandalism is continuing.

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