Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Pro-Russia parade planned for city riles local Ukrainians

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Yevhen Viznyatsya, a recent immigrant from Ukraine, found out about a low-key Russian Victory Day parade Saturday in Winnipeg during which Russians are being encouraged to wear St. George ribbons — symbols of pro-Russian separatist forces.  The ribbons are being distributed to Canadian Russian groups by the Russian embassy. The Ukrainian community is incensed that with the turmoil in Ukraine, local Russians would wear the ribbons. The parade is purported to mark the defeat of the Nazis in the Second World War. The timing is strange given local Russians have never held such a parade before.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Yevhen Viznyatsya, a recent immigrant from Ukraine, found out about a low-key Russian Victory Day parade Saturday in Winnipeg during which Russians are being encouraged to wear St. George ribbons — symbols of pro-Russian separatist forces. The ribbons are being distributed to Canadian Russian groups by the Russian embassy. The Ukrainian community is incensed that with the turmoil in Ukraine, local Russians would wear the ribbons. The parade is purported to mark the defeat of the Nazis in the Second World War. The timing is strange given local Russians have never held such a parade before. Photo Store

The world may love a parade but one quietly planned for Saturday in Winnipeg by anonymous Russian organizers is troubling members of the local Ukrainian community.

For the first time, a Victory Day parade will be held in Winnipeg commemorating the defeat of Nazi Germany in the Second World War. The parade isn't the problem -- it's what people in it are planning to wear that's an issue, said Yevhen Viznyatsya.

Ribbons of St. George -- black-and-orange striped cloth that has become a symbol of pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine -- are being distributed to the parade-goers in Winnipeg courtesy of the Russian government.

"They're worn by Russian separatists and they've become a symbol of terrorism for us," said Lesia Szwaluk, treasurer of the Manitoba Council of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.

"In light of recent news, for me, it's disrespectful to the Ukrainian community," said Viznyatsya, a multilingual computer programmer from Ukraine who moved to Winnipeg four years ago.

He read about plans for a Victory Day parade that were outlined in English on the RussianWinnipeg.org website. It starts at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Manitoba legislature and ends at the Cenotaph on Memorial Boulevard.

The part that's alarming, said Viznyatsya, is written only in Russian. It said St. George ribbons are being distributed to the parade-goers in Winnipeg courtesy of the Russian government through its Canadian Embassy. The ribbons used to be worn as symbols to honour war vets -- similar to Remembrance Day poppies in Canada and the U.K. Now they're a symbol of Russian nationalism worn by masked gunmen and separatist forces in eastern Ukraine.

Viznyatsya said he's concerned ribbons worn at a parade in Canada will be used as propaganda by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"I don't want this parade to be propaganda in Russia -- the next day in the Russian news we'll see the story 'Winnipeg supports Russian separatists.' "

No one at RussianWinnipeg.org responded to an email request for comment, and no contacts for the parade were listed.

Sofia Barklon, with the Russian Cultural Association of Manitoba, said she knew nothing about the parade or who is organizing it.

The Winnipeg Police Service said a parade permit had been obtained for the event but they couldn't reveal who applied for the permit.

Szwaluk said she doesn't know who's organized the parade but called its timing "suspicious."

"This is the very first time they're having a Victory Day parade in Winnipeg -- and this is since the Second World War. All of a sudden, this year with all the turmoil in Ukraine and all the suffering, they're having a Victory Parade?"

The English post on the RussianWinnipeg.org website says the parade is apolitical. It's happening now because "we have received requests for such a parade from the members of www.russianwinnipeg.org for the last number of years," it said.

"Everybody has the right to do what they'd like to do, but we're a multicultural community," said Szwaluk.

"I don't think we should hurt each other. Having those ribbons is very hurtful to the Ukrainian community. To me it just smells... I'm not comfortable with it."

Viznyatsya wrote to Premier Greg Selinger, Tory Leader Brian Pallister and Mayor Sam Katz to alert them to the parade.

"I just want to know their opinion." Pallister's office said they'd look into it.

Viznyatsya said he never heard back from Selinger or Katz.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

How much of the intention behind the parade is celebratory and how much is provocative? Join the conversation in the comments below.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 9, 2014 0

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Updated on Friday, May 9, 2014 at 8:35 AM CDT: Changes headline

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