Guelphites Stand With Ukraine on First Anniversary of Russian Invasion

Although the war still rages in Ukraine, over 200 people came out to Guelph City Hall on a cold Friday night to send the message that we haven’t forgotten. Hopes and prayers were offered that there won’t be a similar vigil at the same time in 2024, but there was also gratitude for the outreach and support, and a special message from a Ukrainian woman who now lives in Guelph after escaping the war back home.

“I just want you to know on behalf of council and the City that we’re here to support you, we continue to support you, and it’s my prayer that we are not here in another year and that the conflict, the war, the unnecessary violence and aggression has completely stopped and Ukraine is free, as it should be,” said Mayor Cam Guthrie.

Guthrie said that despite the evils of war, the response from Guelph has showed off the best of humanity from the collection of clothing and money donations to the welcoming of people escaping the war and violence in Ukraine.

“Tonight, we light a candle, and we share and spread light and love symbolizing unity and support, uniting a strong, loving community to show solidarity with Ukraine and the Ukrainian people against this heinous war on a peaceful country,” said Mira Zmiyiwsky Tersigni, co-chair of the Stand With Ukraine Committee Guelph. “We’re supporting not only those fighting in this war, but their loved ones who have fled and have had attempted to start a new life in our country and our region.”

One of those people starting a new life in Guelph is Nataliia Kuchka, who explained that she and her daughter left Ukraine on February 26. She said that with no relatives living outside of Ukraine, she simply spun a globe and stuck her finger out to choose a place to escape to. Getting out of Ukraine, ahead of the advancing Russian army, she said, was a matter of instinct.

“I clearly remember that I didn’t want to live with the missiles, and I didn’t want to live with the sirens. I didn’t want my daughter to live in the smelly, stinky, cold basements, and I didn’t want her to have this fear till the end of her life. That was what influenced my decision the most,” Kuchka said. “I remember the words of my husband when he told us, ‘I want you and our daughter to come back and live in a free country.’ He decided to go and volunteer with the military and fight for freedom.”

Kuchka said that it wasn’t easy to start again from scratch in a new county, but she has met “many angels” who have helped out her and her daughter along the way. She’s also aware that she’s one of the lucky ones to be be here in Canada, far away from the fighting.

“I don’t complain because I really feel blessed and happy staying safe here under the peaceful sky, and not seeing the missiles or hearing them explode. Just staying safe,” Kuchka said. “I recall my parents in Ukraine who are living without heating and power, I recall my husband at the frontline, I recall all my friends who died in the last year for freedom, and I quickly start to value each moment that God has gifted to us.”

Kuchka said that her experience was a metaphor for what’s happening in Ukraine because she’s using the worst thing that ever happened to her and turning it into a victory. “I’m really proud of all the Ukrainians who are all over the world because during these times we’ve got this unity that nobody can take away from us.”

Father Andrij Figol of the Holy Protection of the Mother of God Ukrainian Catholic Church offered a prayer and words of support for the Ukrainian community, but he also connected the war there to the larger issues of freedom and democracy here in Canada and around the world.

“This is a larger world issue where terrorism and bullying is not tolerated, and not accepted, but rather it’s criminal and is prosecuted by the justice of law,” Figol said.  “Canada has contributed greatly to the fight for freedom and peace by opening your homes, your schools, your churches, your businesses, and ultimately your hearts. Your generosity proves that goodness overcomes any evil that may linger.

“Thank you for who you are, and I’m honoured and also proud to be part of this wonderful community with you,” Figol added before leading people in a moment of silence.

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