Yukoners with a variety of sympathies and ties to the Eastern European nation of Ukraine have begun to organize support after the country was invaded by Russian forces on Feb. 24. Rallies, boycotts of goods and efforts to help Ukrainians flee the fighting are all in progress.
The largest local show of support for the embattled country was a Sunday, Feb. 27 rally in downtown Whitehorse with more than 100 people in attendance. Natalya Spassova, one of the organizers of the rally, said the turnout was larger than expected.
Spassova described a dire and worsening situation that she and other Yukon residents who have family members in Ukraine have been hearing about since the invasion began. Her own family, including her mother and brothers, are in Odessa, a Black Sea port threatened by Russian warships just off the coast. She said other Yukoners are trying to maintain communication with family in Kyiv and other parts of the country as well as those who have been able to flee to Poland.
“It doesn’t look good, more and more tanks are coming. It is getting worse every hour,” Spassova told the News.
She said many of those who attended Sunday’s rally are wondering how they can help. She recommended providing monetary contributions to the Canadian Red Cross that has put out an appeal for donations to help grapple with the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Ukraine. By March 1, the Red Cross’s website said $10 million in donations that the Government of Canada pledged to match had already been raised.
On March 1 the Yukon government approved a $50,000 donation towards the Canadian Red Cross’ work in Ukraine.
“The hearts and minds of all Yukoners are with the people of Ukraine as they face the turmoil of having their home invaded by Russian forces. Our government stands in solidarity with Ukrainians around the world. We thank the Canadian Red Cross, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement for providing much needed support during this crisis,” said Premier Sandy Silver.
Spassova said that Canadian governments should work to streamline the process for Ukrainians to come to Canada. She said the immigration process is currently complicated by some applicants’ inability to fill out forms in English and the damage done to Ukraine’s communications infrastructure by the invasion.
“People need to realize it’s not far away, it’s not just about Ukraine, it’s about the whole world,” she said.
“What is happening there can affect the whole world. It could be third world war.”
Also at the rally was Whitehorse city Coun. Jocelyn Curteanu who called it a stark reminder about how fragile the world is and how basic human rights like freedom, safety and secuirty are not as secure as people sometimes believe.
On Feb. 28, the City of Whitehorse raised the Ukrainian flag as “gesture of solidarity” with the people of the Ukraine as well as Ukrainian Canadians living in the Whitehorse community, Mayor Laura Cabott said in a short address ahead of that evening’s city council meeting.
“The City of Whitehorse’s support at this point may be symbolic, but it’s important to stand up for democracy and peace and against hatred and violence,” she said.
Cabott went on to state the city hopes for a “swift end to this unprovoked attack.”
“We stand with our prime minister in calling on Russia to end all hostile actions against Ukraine and to leave immediately. We, the City of Whitehorse, believe in peace and respect for sovereign nations and towards their neighbours, and thus demand an immediate stop for the Russian aggression in Ukraine.”
She expressed her thanks to the members of the local Ukrainian community who lent the flag that is now flying at city hall. Following the meeting, she said the decision to fly the flag came out of a desire by Whitehorse city council members to do something that would show support for the Ukraine.
Council asked interim city manager Jeff O’Farrell to look into finding a Ukraine flag and in his search, members of the local Ukrainian community came forward to provide the flag.
A Ukranian flag will also be flying in front of the Yukon Government’s main administration building this week.
The day before the Sunday, Feb. 27 rally, there was a smaller show of support for Ukraine on the steps of the Whitehorse courthouse. More than half of the group that typically gathers on Saturdays in support of public health measures carried placards painted in the yellow and blue of the Ukrainian flag and slogans including “defend peace” and “evil will never win.”
“We need to support peace and we need to defend democracy. That is the most important thing,” said Tiara Topps, who was among the demonstrators.
“We’re seeing a lot of evil in this world so it’s important to come out and support good and send our love that way.”
Along with public demonstrations, some Yukon companies and arms of government are taking action. The Yukon Liquor Corporation announced on Feb. 28 that its stores and warehouse would no longer be carrying Russian products. It said Russian Standard vodka, the only Russian-made product presently stocked by the corporation, would be pulled from shelves effective immediately.
On Feb. 25, shortly after the invasion began, Northwestel announced that it would waive long distance charges for calls made to Ukraine from home phones. The fee waiver will be applied automatically and will be in effect until March 31.
Contact Jim Elliot at email@example.com