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Canadians mark grim anniversary of Russian invasion of Ukraine as violence continues

OTTAWA – Events marking the second anniversary of Russia’s deadly invasion of Ukraine were planned across Canada on Saturday, as the head of an organization representing Ukrainian Canadians urged people to honour those who have been killed in the war.

Alexandra Chyczij, national president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, said the day marked a grim milestone many hoped would never come.

“One year ago today we prayed that we would not be standing here today marking the second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine,” Chyczij said in a video shared on social media Saturday.

“The Ukrainian Canadian Congress joins with all Canadians to pay tribute to the courage of the Ukrainian people and to honour the memory of the thousands of innocent people murdered by Russia’s genocidal war of aggression,” she said.

Chyczij said the only way the war can end is with Ukraine’s victory.

“Anything short of that (victory) is just delaying the inevitable reckoning with a murderous, despotic and totalitarian regime,” Chyczij said. “Anything short of that is inviting further invasion from Putin, but this time into NATO countries.”

She thanked Canada for welcoming more than 230,000 Ukrainians seeking refuge from the violence, and said Canada and its allies must provide Ukraine with weapons and economic support.

Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his long-feared invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022. His paratroopers raided the Hostomel airport, near Kyiv, just hours after the start of what he called a “special military operation” in the country.

Lyubov Zhyznomirska, an organizer for a “Stand with Ukraine” rally in Halifax, said in an interview Saturday the anniversary marks an emotional day for Ukrainian Canadians and for those who have fled to Canada in the past two years due to the war.

“For people who came to Canada since the war started, for them this day brings memories of having to escape, having to hide, having to wake up to cities and airports being shelled,” she said.

Zhyznomirska said although many Ukrainians are safely settled in Canada, they are often consumed by the violence happening back home.

“For many Ukrainians and people with Ukrainian origin, there’s the reality of the war being constantly present in your mind. Despite being in a peaceful environment, we have a different reality to comprehend and live with,” said Zhyznomirska, who is the vice president of the Nova Scotia chapter of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.

The rally scheduled for Saturday in Halifax has been postponed until Sunday due to rainy weather. Zhyznomirska said she hopes Sunday’s event will be a powerful reminder of the sacrifices made in the war.

“The rally is an expression of solidarity, but also of mourning. At this point lots of families, lots of Ukrainians, have known someone who has died in the war,” she said.

The Ukrainian community in Montreal will mark the anniversary with a march through the city’s downtown Saturday. Tetiana Iriohlu plans to be among the participants.

“It’s really important to me,” the 42-year-old mother of two said in a phone interview Saturday. “I can participate and I must participate.”

Iriohlu arrived in Canada in July 2022 with her daughters – now four and 16 years old – after fleeing Ukraine when war broke out. Her husband stayed behind.

She says the Saturday march represents a cherished opportunity to demonstrate support for her country and compatriots from her new home on the other side of the world.

“There’s a lot of life that’s destroyed,” she said of the war. “I have to participate because that’s what I can do as a Ukrainian.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau joined Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the Hostomel airfield Saturday morning, alongside leaders from the European Commission, Italy and Belgium. The Western leaders arrived shortly after a Russian drone attack struck a residential building in the southern city of Odesa, killing at least one person.

More than 10,000 civilians have been killed in the two years of conflict, and more than 20,000 have been injured, according to the United Nations. However, the international organization says the actual numbers are likely much higher.

Trudeau signed a new security agreement while in the Ukrainian capital, aimed at fortifying both the Ukrainian military and the country’s struggling economy. The deal includes some $320 million in new military spending, which is due by the end of the year, plus $75 million for demining efforts and intelligence gathering.

Roger Hilton, a research fellow at Globsec, a security and sustainability think-tank based in Bratislava, said Saturday that as the war enters its third year the federal government should more aggressively ramp up its support for Ukraine.

“Ottawa needs to seriously enhance all areas of support to Kyiv to help them survive the current offensive. Canada should look to mimic the policies of Norway and Denmark, who since 2022 have contributed more than Canada, despite having smaller economies and industrial bases,” Hilton said.

“Half measures and the future progress of Russia now, makes future investments infinitelymore expensive, where smart financial foresight dictates upfront costs.”

In Ottawa, federal Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre vowed in a statement posted to social media that “Canada will always stand with Ukraine.”

“With unshakeable resolve and determination, Ukrainian people have fought back,” he wrote. “They haven’t given up, and neither will we.”

Trudeau has accused Poilievre of abandoning Ukraine because of the Conservatives’ opposition to the Canada-Ukraine trade agreement.

Tories have said that they support Ukraine but they oppose the legislation because the updated deal says both countries aim to promote carbon pricing.

Trade Minister Mary Ng has said the agreement will enable Canadian businesses to eventually help with Ukraine’s economic reconstruction and post-war recovery. Ukraine already has a carbon price in place and Canadian officials have said that language is non-binding.

With files from Thomas MacDonald in Montreal and the Associated Press.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 24, 2024.