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'We just want to exist': Ukrainian-Canadians mark second anniversary of war

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Hundreds gathered in downtown Vancouver Saturday to mark a grim anniversary – two years since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

People draped themselves with the blue and yellow Ukrainian flag, prayed and held signs stating: “The war is not over. Ukraine is still fighting for its freedom.”

On Feb. 24, 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine, seeking to take control of it, despite the country being independent since 1991 when the Soviet Union dissolved.

‘My soul is in Ukraine’

It was an emotional day for many as they grieved the loss of family and friends.

Oksana Gurska solemnly held a book of poetry dedicated to her partner, a Ukrainian soldier who has been sentenced to 25 years in a Russian prison.

“I can’t get any information about my best friend,” she said. “It’s very difficult to stay in Canada because my body is here, but my soul is in Ukraine.”

Like Gurska, Olena Lysenka is from Kyiv and came to Canada shortly after the war began.

She told CTV News she’s hopeful the country will prevail despite the fighting entering its third year.

“I hope we can win this war and return to Ukraine,” Lysenka said.

‘The war is not over’

Adrian Petriw, a co-founder of the Ukrainian Canadian Advocacy Group, said marking the anniversary brought a mix of emotions.

“We’re angry that this is still where we are,” he said. “The war is not over. Combat is intense right now, people are losing loved ones, so this is something that we’re living with every single day.”

Petriw said he’s heard from many Ukrainian-Canadians who feel a sense of anxiety regarding international support – both financially and politically.

“There’s a fear, a very real fear that people – non-Ukrainians – just want to move on,” he said. “We just want to exist. Ukrainians just want a free nation. That’s what we’re here for. That’s what we’re fighting for.”

PM commits additional funding

On Saturday, Prime Minister Trudeau visited Kyiv, announcing around $3 billion in funding, including $320 million in new military spending.

Petriw commended the PM’s announcement.

“We’re grateful that in Canada, support for Ukraine isn’t and shouldn’t be a political issue,” he said. “That it’s unanimous.”

In the U.S., some members of Congress have been preventing a US$95.3-billion aid package from being approved. The aid package — which, if approved, would go to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan — has been passed in the Senate, but stalled in the House of Representatives. 

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