About 300 people come out on Sunday to show solidarity with Ukraine, and Guelph’s Ukrainian community. In front of a sea of yellow and blue, several speakers came out to say that the events half-a-world away are having an effect on people right here in Guelph too. From the request for financial support, to the invitation to settle refugees here, the message was loud and clear that the Royal City stands with Ukraine.
“We gather in peace to voice our support for the friendly and peace loving country Ukraine, and we stand together against the terror and evil imposed by Putin and his army,” said Father Andrij Figol of the Holy Protection of the Mother of God Ukrainian Catholic Church. “Although we are in the 21st century, a time when we felt that war was put behind us, we’ve all been pulled into this chaos and suffering that threatens the lives of our friends and families in Ukraine.”
Suffering was on display in Sunday’s news as Russia continues it’s advance on Kyiv and causing great destruction in the community of Irpin, which is about 25 kilometres northwest from the capital of Ukraine. The residents of Irpin are desperately trying to escape the shelling, and they might soon join the 1.5 million Ukrainians who have already become wartime refugees in surrounding countries like Poland and Hungary.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau departed on a week-long diplomatic trip to Europe that will take him to the U.K., Latvia, Germany and Poland. “In light of Russia’s unwarranted and unjustifiable aggression against Ukraine, Canada is working in close collaboration with our allies and partners in defending democracy against authoritarianism and standing with the Ukrainian people. We will continue to ensure that Russia’s actions do not go unpunished,” Trudeau said in a statement Friday.
Back in Guelph, Figol thanked everyone for coming out on this sunny, but windy, Sunday afternoon to show their support, and noted the united front in the face of war. “Your solidarity and generosity attests to our taking action to protect the freedom that we so value, and that we intend for every single human being in the world,” he said. “We pray for the world in this moment of crisis and war, and that we may reach out in solidarity to our brothers and sisters in need.”
Mayor Cam Guthrie noted some of the stories he had heard from Guelph residents in the last week; one person who has family in Kyiv, and another whose relative was arrested in Russia for protesting against the war and Russian President Vladimir Putin. “If you think it’s over there and it’s not affecting the people of Guelph, those are just a few stories I know,” Guthrie said.
“This show of solidarity today is so important, and I leave you with two things. We are a community that always welcomes people, and this city is ready to take refugees yesterday,” Guthrie added. “And secondly, if I could challenge you – and I’m holding the mirror in front of my own face – if you can dig deep and make a monetary donation so that those funds can help families over in Ukraine.”
Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner echoed the mayor’s call to resettle refugees and assisting Ukrainian’s with financial support, but he also said that that people in Guelph and across Canada will need to donate something else too: resolve.
“If the sanctions are really going to hurt, and we have to make them hurt Putin, we’re going to have to pay a little bit too,” Schreiner said. “And I for one am willing to make that sacrifice and I know each and every one of you are as well because we have to make the sanctions hurt to stop this war.”
“I am so inspired by the bravery, the courage and the resiliency of Ukrainian people standing up to this terror and this senseless act of war by Mr. Putin. And I also want to say thank you to the brave Russians who are speaking out against major repression in their own community to protest against Putin’s war,” Schreiner added.
Mira Zmiyiwsky, who is a parishioner of the church and one of the organizers of Sunday’s event, noted that everyone with family in Ukraine is eager to hear any bit of news about their fate, but we have to be cautious because there are forces of misinformation eager to downplay the human cost of the war.
“We need to remember that there is false news circulating on the internet trying to diminish the severity of what is happening in Ukraine today. However, what we are seeing on the news and hearing from our family and friends in Ukraine is truly horrific,” Zmiyiwsky said. “We must continue to unite in solidarity as a community, as a province and as a country for the people of Ukraine.”
“The outpouring of your support from Canadians, especially our small but mighty community members of Guelph, has been incredible,” she added. “Every supportive action, small or big, is so appreciated and makes a direct impact on the people standing around you today.”
Next Sunday, there will be Sacred Fire from 12 to 2 pm if people want to come out to again show their support for Ukraine and local Ukrainian-Canadians. There will also be a solidarity walk, which is being organized by Guelph Coalition for Active Transportation president Mike Darmon. It will begin at 1 pm in Market Square and end at Fixed Gear Brewing at 20 Alma Street South were there will be a fundraising event.