A small group from Halifax’s Ukrainian community gathered outside Halifax City Hall on Saturday to raise awareness of the possibility of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Despite being thousands of kilometres away, the potential conflict is top of mind for Ukrainian Canadians, said Anastasiia Mereshchuk, a member of the Nova Scotia branch of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.
In late 2021, Russia began moving military equipment and troops towards Ukraine while demanding that the country never join NATO, the western military alliance led by the United States. Western and Ukranian estimates have pegged the number of Russian troops stationed near Ukraine’s borders at more than 100,000, with more soldiers and military equipment arriving.
On Friday, American Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met in a bid to ease tensions. But the threat of a Russian invasion still looms. Russia denies it plans to invade and contends that the real problem is eastward expansion of NATO, which it says threatens Russian security interests.
“We still have families and friends in Ukraine, and everyone is affected one way or another,” Mereshchuk said. There are around 9,000 people of Ukrainian background in Nova Scotia, according to the 2016 census. “We are really, really worried about their safety and how they’re doing,” she said.
Mereshchuk is concerned for her grandparents, aunts, godson and school friends who live in Ukraine. As the world speculates as to what will happen next, she checks in with family and friends daily, who share the confusion currently felt in the country.
“One day it could be more or less calm. And then the next day, everyone is worried and there are rumours that Russia is going to invade today or tomorrow,” she said. “So it’s very unsettling for everyone.”
If an invasion were to happen, Mereshchuk said, “no one is prepared. You can’t prepare for it.”
She’s most concerned about her grandmother in Dnipro. If she needed to relocate due to war, Mereshchuk is worried she wouldn’t be able to mobilize quickly in her old age.
Mereshchuk and other Ukrainians gathered at City Hall to take a photo for the #StandWithUkraine campaign, which is being run by the Ukranian congress to raise awareness and ask for more support for Ukraine from the Canadian government.
The gathering was held on the steps connecting the Grand Parade to Argyle Street and was attended by about 20 people. The group posed for the photo in the bitter cold, holding both Ukrainian and Canadian flags and signs bearing the campaign’s slogan. No sooner than the photo was taken, people headed to their cars, though a few stuck around to chat in Ukrainian and English.
Mereshchuk said the campaign is calling on Canadians to “stand with the Ukrainian people.”
“We’re not asking you to fight for us,” she said. “But we do need help defending Ukraine.”
Andre Mereshuk, the president of the congress’s Nova Scotia branch said that he’s appreciative of what Canada has done for the country so far and wants the support to continue.
On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada is loaning up to $120 million to Ukraine to help sustain its economy in light of any economic destabilization caused by Russia.
But Mereshuk said the congress would like to see more assistance.
“We are asking Canada to provide some sanctions against Russia and against Russians leaders,” he said. “And we ask them to support Ukrainians,” including with military equipment.
Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said this week that Russia would face sanctions from Canada if an invasion occurs. However, Trudeau said on Thursday that the federal government is concerned that sending weapons to Ukraine would provide Russia with an excuse to invade.
The campaign by the congress also calls for Ukraine to be provided with a NATO membership action plan, which helps countries prepare to join the organization. The organization also wants the recently completed Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which would see Russian natural gas flow to western Europe while circumventing Ukraine, prevented from going into operation.
After years of tension between the two countries, which began with Russia’s annexing of Crimea in 2014, Mereshuk said that at the most basic level, “we just ask: leave Ukrainians alone.”
About the author
Lane Harrison is a fourth-year multimedia journalist from Toronto, Ontario. He works as the editor-in-chief of the Dalhousie Gazette, Dalhousie's...