As uncertainty rises in eastern Europe, those in Victoria with ties to Ukraine are feeling helpless watching the evolving situation at the country’s border with Russia.
Russia maintains it is not planning an attack, despite amassing an estimated 100,000 troops near the border and running military drills – activities that have caught the eye of the western world.
Devon Sereda Goldie grew up in a Ukrainian-Canadian family and has visited friends and family in the country many times.
“It’s a place that I personally feel is another home and a very big part of me, my life and my cultural identity,” said Sereda Goldie, president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress’ Victoria branch.
The situation has been very difficult for herself and other members of the Ukrainian community in Greater Victoria, she said.
Some people here have lost contact with loved ones in Ukraine and Sereda Goldie knows people who have fled the eastern part of the country. Many locals have friends and family living near the Ukraine-Russia border and are especially concerned for their safety, Sereda Goldie said.
People here are constantly on edge, she added, as the Ukrainian government has told its citizens to have a suitcase and all of their necessary documents ready, just in case.
Among those hearing that warning was the family of Victoria Grando, who works as office administrator at the Ukrainian Cultural Centre in Saanich.
“We’re of course very concerned about them and the situation, it’s very tough,” said Grando, who was born and raised in Kyiv.
Canadian support has helped her family in Ukraine stay calm for now, but Canada and the U.S. recently ordering families of diplomats to leave the country has revived concern.
“They said not to worry about them, that everything is going to work out,” Grando said. “Because we’re so far away, it’s hard, but judging by their reaction they’re absolutely calm.
“I think we’ll make it, it’s tough, but I believe that everything will be fine.”
The local Ukrainian community believes it’s time for the international community to act and be proactive to deter further Russian invasion, Sereda Goldie said.
“I think it’s important to stand up because Russia is a big bully.”
But being here, she said, there’s a sense of helplessness and frustration. The local community is happy to see Canada committing aid and “being a leader” in imposing sanctions, but believes the feds can go further by increasing defensive weapons shipments to Ukraine, imposing further sanctions against Russia, advocating for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline to be cancelled and enhancing military support through Operation UNIFIER.
She also wants Canada to push for Ukraine to be admitted into NATO – something Moscow disapproves of.
During her visits, Sereda Goldie said the larger cities can feel normal, but there’s always an underlying tension as reminders of the unrest facing Ukraine are everywhere. It’s also a topic the country’s artists don’t shy away from.
“It’s what the theatre is about right now, it’s what you’re seeing in the visual arts, everybody is reflecting on this war because it’s such a pervasive part of their everyday lives,” she said.
As a young person, it’s upsetting for Sereda Goldie to see young people continue to die on the frontlines of the conflict that has already seen 14,000 deaths.
“There are people dying almost every day and there has been for the past eight years.”
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