In solidarity with Ukraine

Winnipeggers rally for homeland after Russia invades

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A man from Luhansk rang the buzzer at the import-export store on Selkirk Avenue that doubles as one-stop shop for Ukrainian items.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/02/2022 (342 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A man from Luhansk rang the buzzer at the import-export store on Selkirk Avenue that doubles as one-stop shop for Ukrainian items.

He popped in to Svitoch Ukrainian Export & Import Thursday to buy the light blue and yellow flag of his nation: a large one to hang from his window and smaller ones to fly on his car.

Alexey, a 34-year-old who didn’t want his last name published, said it was the least he could do.

Svitoch Ukrainian Export & Import owner Ruslan Zeleniuk (right) packs up flags for Alexey, who has family in the Luhansk region. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

His family and friends live in fear because of the Russian military’s invasion of Ukraine. The eastern region he grew up in has been occupied since the conflict began in 2014, but now missiles and airstrikes have rained over much of the democratic nation as Russian ground troops move in.

“In Luhansk right now, thankfully it’s quiet because it’s not where the war is… they are pushing forces to the central part of Ukraine. My brother is in Kyiv and it’s scary, it’s dangerous,” said Alexey, who moved to Winnipeg with his wife in 2018.

Ruslan Zeleniuk, who has owned the Selkirk Avenue shop since 1993, sends goods and money from Canada to Ukraine and brings in cultural wares: pysanka Easter egg kits, traditional vyshyvanka shirts and ornately patterned headscarves stacked behind the till, among the other items in the cramped shop. Its walls are packed and lined with pictures of poet Taras Shevchenko and the Ukrainian coat-of-arms.

He said learning about the invasion in his home country was awful.

“Absolutely devastating, that they in the 21st century need to live in a barbaric situation like that. But at the same time, they are staying strong and all the people I spoke to… they are staying still and will defend Ukraine to the last of their breath and last heartbeat,” he said.

Zeleniuk said Winnipeg Ukrainians have been “very much aware” of the chance of a full-scale invasion since the war began in 2014.

It was expected, he said, but “no one cared about it that much,” referring to western governments.

“From day one, this has been the Russian Federation, which has always been so harsh to our Ukrainian people,” he said, stooped over a case of jewelry.

“They didn’t want us to be free. They didn’t want a portion of the former Soviet Union to be democratic.

“We’ve been waiting right until the very last minute to give Ukraine weapons to defend themselves and that’s a big mistake.” 

He wants the west to come down hard on Russia by expeling it from international organziations, severing diplomatic ties, imposing severe financial sanctions and supporting Ukraine with weapons and other military aid.

Zeleniuk said there’s uncertainty in the exporting business as the war ramps up.

Russia didn’t want a portion of the former Soviet Union to be democratic, says Ruslan Zeleniuk, owner of Svitoch Ukrainian Export & Import on Selkirk Avenue. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

“People are worried. Right now, we don’t really know how the services to Ukraine will be, to send stuff properly and deliver it,” he said.

“But, still, I want to encourage everyone to support the families back home in Ukraine… I guarantee you we will ship that our first chance to do so.”

The flags Alexey will fly are just part of the help the community is planning. Zeleniuk told him there are options to support the Ukrainian army and forces with cash, for example.

“He came here to look for the (ways) to support Ukraine in this country and be a part of the actions and reactions to whatever we are living with,” Zeleniuk said, having just welcomed him in the door.

Zeleniuk is also president of MYLOSERDIA, a Winnipeg non-profit organization, which has shipped care packages and provided other assistance to Ukrainians since 2000.

“We are always open for donations here at this address,” he added.

erik.pindera@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @erik_pindera

Erik Pindera

Erik Pindera
Reporter

Erik Pindera reports for the city desk, with a particular focus on crime and justice.

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