‘Don’t panic, be strong’: Ukrainian Westman families plead for support amid Russian invasion


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Olga Boika woke up Thursday morning fearing for the safety of her parents and brother who live in the Chernihiv region of northern Ukraine.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/02/2022 (465 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Olga Boika woke up Thursday morning fearing for the safety of her parents and brother who live in the Chernihiv region of northern Ukraine.

The last 24 hours have generated immense concern for Boika, a teacher at École New Era in Brandon, as well as for many other Westman families with Ukrainian ties.

“I went to work [Thursday] morning thinking I could do it and not think about what was going on back in Ukraine, but I couldn’t,” Boika said.

Tim Smith/The Brandon Sun St. Mary’s Ukrainian Catholic Church Rev. Father Yaroslav Strukhlyak has relatives in Ukraine.

“I went to school and everyone started to ask ‘how are you and how are things going,’ and tears were just going down myself.”

Boika has been on the phone with her parents who live near the Ukraine-Belarus border, an entry point for the Russian military. Her parents said they heard the Ukrainian military destroying nearby bridges to slow Russian aggressors coming from Belarus. People near the capital Kyiv have been instructed to take shelter in subways.

“They said, ‘Olga, we heard that Russian troops are 50 kilometers from us,’” Boika said.

“That keeps you so nervous, it’s hard to explain because we don’t know [Russia’s] plans, what they will do to keep people who live in the area.”

Boika, who has lived in Brandon since 2010, stayed home to spend the day with her husband and children.

She told the Sun her parents have open visas and could travel to Canada with her assistance but are not ready to leave behind the life they built over decades back home.

“How can you imagine we’d leave all this stuff behind for who, what will the Russian people do with our stuff?” Boika said.

Boika learned her younger brother, who does not have a visa, could hear the sounds of gunfire in Chernihiv after she called him during the day.

“Living right now in 2022, it’s hard to imagine that we have that situation in Ukraine,” Boika said.

“Probably when I was a child and I heard stories from the Second World War, I thought how horrible it was and how those people survived. We, of course, don’t want that to happen anymore, but it seems like a reality which makes us feel unsafe.”

Boika instructed her parents to prepare their cellar with blankets, extension cords and a phone charger to be able to communicate with them.

Her parents operate a small farm and greenhouse in the region and are able to have pigs and rabbits as livestock which they take to market. She explained how her family has been growing tulips to sell ahead of March 8, which is normally a big celebration of International Women’s Day in Ukraine.

“That’s all they have,” Boika said. “They think they will defend it somehow.”

Much like Boika, Vasyl Marchuk, a Ukrainian Westman resident of 14 years, has been unable to rest. After contacting his parents who live in Ostroh, in northwestern Ukraine, Marchuk said the fear generated from the initial attacks will only favour the Russian military.

Submitted Olga Boika welcomed her family to Brandon a few years ago, prior to the increased conflict between Russia and Ukraine. She is hopeful to have her family reunited in the future, should the situation worsen in her home country.

“This is painful for everybody who has family in Ukraine,” said Marchuk

“Panic will play into the Russians’ hands. This is terrible news.”

His two brothers, parents and in-law relatives still live in Ukraine. Marchuk, the president of the Ukrainian Canadian Association in Brandon, said it is now time for other countries to help defend his place of birth and show resilience in the face of conflict. It is the reason why his parents are currently staying put.

“They would like to stay in Ukraine because they believe other countries will help stand against Russian aggression. We will be hopeful for help from Europe and North America.”

At St. Mary’s Ukrainian Catholic Church, Rev. Father Yaroslav Strukhlyak prepares for a Thursday evening prayer service and asks for protection of Ukrainians from the Blessed Virgin Mary.

He too has spoken with his parents who live in Ternopil, a city in western Ukraine, close to the Polish border. Strukhlyak said his family is remaining at home and are terrified to leave.

“People didn’t know what to do,” Strukhlyak said.

“The Russians are using missiles, they are trying to disconnect the airports, the government and military.”

Strukhlyak moved to Brandon in August 2021, after serving as a parish priest in Gilbert Plains, Grandview and Roblin. In the church, the reverend said all he can offer is a continued prayer as a sign of support, both spiritually, morally and if needed, materially.

“That’s what we feel, we will pray for the protection of the people of Ukraine,” Strukhlyak said.

Strukhlyak welcomed several families and individuals who attended the evening service.

The church, normally full of life, was a solemn place Thursday evening as the reverend offered prayers in both Ukrainian and English.

Many Westman residents joined in song and showed their sympathies and support for loved ones in danger through prayer.

Marchuk said he is worried Ukraine may not be the last stop for Putin’s attack and is urging the public to be wary of the conflict expanding west.

Tim Smith/The Brandon Sun Approximately 15 Brandonites, mostly Ukrainians with family and friends still in Ukraine, took part in a special prayer service on Thursday evening at St. Mary's Ukrainian Catholic Church on Assiniboine Avenue, held in response to Russia invading Ukraine.

“If only Ukraine stays and fights, it would better if we were all against this one regime,” Marchuk said.

“Today we have Ukraine, after it could be Poland or Germany. I can say Putin is crazy, he is not thinking.”

Dave Federowich helps run the Yednist School of Ukrainian Dance in Brandon. Federowich has taken part in organizing the Ukrainian Independence Day festivities in the city in 2019 and stays heavily involved in the cultural community. He said it is despicable to see an attack on his home country and believes Russia has been long motivated to reunite the two countries since the fall of the Soviet Union.

“There’s always been that err of talk that Russia would one day want to do that after Ukraine declared independence in 1991.”

For Boika, she is hopeful the Canadian government will step up and recognize people like her younger brother, and other Ukrainian refugees in need.

“I would love to see Canada open for some people who need to escape from that horrible situation,” Boika said.

Marchuk said he was able to tune in to Russian media where a message of “throwing in the white flag,” is being sent to Ukrainians nearby. He is encouraging Canadians to send financial support to Ukraine where possible and stay hopeful.

“Don’t panic, be strong and believe all will be alright,” Marchuk said.

“We [Ukrainians] are going to stay to the end, I wish I could go to my country and stay with them.”


» Twitter: @JosephBernacki


Updated on Thursday, February 24, 2022 10:53 PM CST: Adds photos

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