Russian and Ukrainian Canadians clashed briefly on the steps of the Manitoba Legislature on Saturday afternoon after a pro-Russian rally erupted in a shouting match with Ukraine supporters waving gigantic Ukrainian blue and yellow flags.
With both sides shouting each other down in the Ukrainian and Russian languages, observers were left to find supporters willing to translate the conflict into English.
"They're saying something like 'Shame, shame.' They called us fascists," one Ukrainian supporter shouted over the roar of Ukrainian chants.
Russian supporters insisted they meant no harm.
'It offends me, because the people who are wearing the same ribbons in the Ukraine are killing people, they're taking hostages. If they weren't wearing these ribbons I would have no issue'
Irena Motnenko said she was the one who called the Ukrainians "fascists."
She said the rally was intended as a remembrance of the Russians who died in the Second World War, but she also made it clear she and other members of Winnipeg's Russian community see Ukraine as part of Russia. To Motnenko, pro-Ukrainian nationalists in Canada and the Ukraine are the separatists, not the other way around.
"They do not allow us to voice our opinions. That's not fair in a democracy," Motnenko said.
The rally was touted on social media as a Victory Day parade. Although these are held in Moscow every year to mark the end of the Second World War, this was the first time members of Winnipeg's Russian community staged a similar event here.
Many Russians sported the Remembrance Day poppy but it was the presence of the St. George ribbon, with its bold black and orange stripes, pinned on T-shirts and polo shirts that inflamed tempers. For weeks, pro-Russian Ukrainians have been seen wearing the St. George's ribbon in violent clashes now going on in eastern Ukraine.
"It offends me, because the people who are wearing the same ribbons in the Ukraine are killing people, they're taking hostages. If they weren't wearing these ribbons I would have no issue," Ukrainian community member Ivan Marynovsky said.
Beyond the ribbons, Ukrainians voiced the suspicion the Winnipeg rally was part of a broader propaganda campaign orchestrated from Moscow to show President Vladimir Putin's Russian expansion plans have support from around the world.
A Russian community member at the rally confirmed the St. George's ribbons in Winnipeg had been supplied through Russia's Canadian Embassy.
"I never thought this would come to Canada. It's one thing to debate it online. It's another thing to take it to the streets and show it on cameras. It can be used as propaganda against Ukrainians, that the Russian community in Winnipeg supports the invasion in Ukraine. I guarantee it will be on Russia Today tomorrow," Marynovsky said.
Russia Today, better known by its initials RT, is a gigantic Russia-based television network that broadcasts around the world.
There were supporters at the rally, perhaps not wanting to politicize the event, who wore only the familiar poppy. Many of them also carried flowers.
"I believe the St. George ribbon represents Victory Day, but that was before the Ukraine. I'm not wearing one because a lot of people on my social network pointed out it's a symbol of something that is disrespectful, so I made a choice not to wear one. We're not here to antagonize anyone. We're here to remember our great-grandfather," a woman who gave her name only as Galina said.
Ukrainian supporters outnumbered Russians by about three to one, with perhaps 200 people in total crowding the steps of the legislature at about 2 p.m. Russian supporters quickly moved to the cenotaph on Memorial Boulevard, where they'd planned to finish anyway.
Meanwhile, the main community organization representing the Russian community in Winnipeg, the Manitoba Russian Cultural and Educational Centre, chose to avoid the parade.
"We should remember that we are Canadians, members of a multicultural society and have to respect each other," Dmitriy Shishkin, the president of the Russian Centre, wrote in an email to the Free Press.
"To bring all that turmoil going on in Ukraine right now to Canada is the (last thing) we want to do," Shishkin said.
"Lives lost in the last months in Kyiv, Donbass and Odessa are the terrible price paid by ordinary people for the political ambitions of some politicians."