Alberta’s Ukrainian community worries about family and friends overseas

Alberta’s Ukrainian community is increasingly worried about family and friends in Ukraine, after Russia further escalated the situation along the countries’ common border.

Fighting in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine has been going on since 2014. But Russia recently mobilized around 100,000 troops, as well as tanks and artillery, near the northern, eastern and southern Ukraine, suggesting there could be an invasion if Russia doesn’t get its geopolitical whims.

“There is a lot of concern within our community here in Alberta, because we are deeply rooted,” said Orysia Boychuk, President of the Congress of Ukrainian Canadians – Alberta Provincial Council.

Generations of Ukrainians have immigrated to Alberta over the past 130 years, and many people within the local Ukrainian community still have ties to people who still live in the Eastern European country, explained Boychuk.

“There’s a very deep emotional connection,” she said. “We are worried about the political stability of the country and what the future holds for Ukraine, because there is a lot of fear, there is a lot of tension at the moment.”

Ukraine has been striving for several years to become a member of NATO – the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a political and military alliance between North American and European member countries.

But Russia says it wants NATO not to accept the country into its alliance, as well as a guarantee from the organization that it will not expand into areas Russia considers part of. its sphere of influence.

Russia also wants the United States to withdraw nuclear weapons from Europe and for Western allies to stop rotating troops in several Eastern European countries.

NATO has rejected these demands, so Russia’s recent military action appears to be a coup to get what it wants.

Several countries, including Canada, have threatened to impose economic sanctions on Russia in the event of an invasion.

Either way, the situation is seen as the most significant escalation since the Cold War – the decades-long overt but restrained rivalry between the United States and the former Soviet Union, and their respective allies, which raised fears of nuclear war.

People in Ukraine are trying to stay calm, but they are worried, especially those who live closer to the country’s borders, Boychuk said, based on conversations she and others have had with loved ones. .

“They are thinking about the next steps and what it would really mean now, if they were to go to war, and what the implications would be. [would be] for them,” she said.

If war breaks out, millions of people will likely flee Ukraine and seek refugee status elsewhere, Boychuk said.

The Ukrainian community in Alberta is trying to find ways to help these people if this scenario occurs, she said.

Vitaliy Milentyev, president of the Alberta-Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce, said it’s hard to think of recent times when things went like this.

“The situation is undeniably tense,” he said. “It’s hotter than we’ve seen in the seven years, almost eight years now that the military conflict is ongoing.”

Milentyev said he believes the Canadian government should become more actively involved in this situation, as thousands of Ukrainians currently live in Canada.

“Aggression and all this tension are slowing down the country’s economic growth. Investments are not flowing in, people are extremely cautious when dealing with Ukraine,” he said.

“That in itself is just as damaging as all this nervousness across the country on the military side.”

January 22 is Ukraine Unity Day, marking the anniversary of the joining of eastern and western Ukraine in 1919.

There are a few small rallies across the province on Saturday for people to take photos and join the #StandWithUkraine campaign, showing solidarity and support for Ukrainians amid the situation abroad.

The Ukrainian Canadian Congress-Alberta Provincial Council is also planning protests in “the very near future”, Boychuk said.

Congress wants Canadians to reach out to their MPs, pushing for Canada to provide the military and economic support necessary for Ukrainians to defend themselves, Boychuk said.

He also wants NATO to speed up Ukraine’s EU membership action plan and tougher sanctions on Russia to deter it from further aggression, she said.

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