‘It’s his duty’: Manitobans return to Ukraine to assist defence of friends, family
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A local Ukrainian couple parted ways at the Winnipeg airport Sunday for what they hope will be a short period of time while the 35-year-old man visits their war-torn homeland to defend their city and loved ones.
“I have felt awful. I have not been sleeping well, but now I feel calm (because)… I’m going home to see my family and to protect my family. I know I will return as soon as possible,” said Max Liahusha, reached by phone Monday at Calgary International Airport.
Liahusha has to take three different flights — Winnipeg to Calgary, Calgary to Amsterdam, and lastly, Amsterdam to Krakow — to meet friends who are planning to pick him up Tuesday in Poland to organize a road trip to his final destination.
Over the weekend, after numerous tense conversations that have taken place in recent days after Russian forces invaded Ukraine, Liahusha said his wife finally agreed to let him board a plane.
It was around one year ago Liahusha moved to Winnipeg to meet Tanya, who arrived in 2019 as an international student, and started a life together in Canada.
Before moving to the Prairies, he spent six years working for the French military; during that time, he learned how to operate military vehicles, Liahusha said during a phone interview conducted primarily in French. His resumé also includes Ukrainian and Russian fluency, and prior experience as an industrial train conductor in Ukraine.
Liahusha said he was compelled to go home to offer his extensive military experience and support his brother, sister-in-law and mother-in-law, alongside numerous friends who remain in Ukraine.
“It’s not a decision that’s hard. It was easy to make — when my wife said yes. I told her, ‘I need to go. I need to go.’ She said, ‘No, no, no,’ but finally, she said, ‘Alright,’” said Liahusha, who works as a window installer in Winnipeg.
“It’s not a decision that’s hard. It was easy to make– when my wife said yes.” – Max Liahusha
Russian forces continued to attack cities across the eastern European country throughout the weekend, while Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered nuclear deterrence forces to be on high alert.
As of midday Monday, there had yet to be any reported action in Kryvyi Rih, a city in which the Liahusha family resides, located approximately 500 kilometres southeast of the capital of Kyiv.
Tanya said saying goodbye was incredibly difficult and while she did not want him to go home, she decided it may be the right thing to do.
“It’s his duty; it’s what he has to do. He’s very brave. I admire his ability to stay strong during this time and think about others,” she said, hours after she dropped her husband off at the local airport.
This is not the first time the two, who were married in Ukraine in 2015, have been separated across the world. Liahusha has travelled to Tahiti and Mali, among other places, for military work.
Tanya, 32, said the plan is her husband will arrive in their hometown to support their family, including her twin sister, any way he can. He will also help the community by building physical barriers to prevent Russian soldiers from invading Kryvyi Rih and prepare for an air attack, she said.
“We talked about (the possibility that he may have to use weapons). I hope he doesn’t have to do it once he reaches Ukraine, but I know that he is cool-headed and he can act fast. He knows what to do in emergency situations,” Tanya added.
“We talked about (the possibility that he may have to use weapons). I hope he (Max Liahusha) doesn’t have to do it once he reaches Ukraine, but I know that he is cool-headed and he can act fast.” – Tanya
Meantime, a number of Canadian-Ukrainians in Manitoba are fundraising and purchasing items, such as two-way radios, to send to people who have been unable to flee amid the chaos.
Brandon resident Vartan Davtian said he is planning to move home to Ukraine next week to do whatever he can to support his relatives and friends, including a childhood friend who is a major in the army.
Davtian, 37, said he would have left sooner, but he has been told he will be of more use if he arrives with money and supplies, such as night vision goggles and various medicines that are in short supply in Ukraine.
“Right now, I’m going to try to move every single rock around me to raise that money before I leave,” he said. “It is human nature that we leave things for tomorrow.
“I’ve been leaving lots of things for tomorrow, but this is a time when you can’t leave this for tomorrow because tomorrow is gonna be late.”
“I’ve been leaving lots of things for tomorrow, but this is a time when you can’t leave this for tomorrow because tomorrow is gonna be late.” – Vartan Davtian
Manitoba is home to the largest population of Ukrainians per capita in Canada. Approximately 15 per cent of the provincial population’s ethnic origin is Ukraine.
Some rural municipalities have even more concentrated Ukrainian diasporas; in Ethelbert and Sliding Hills, both of which are located north of Dauphin near the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border, that figure is around 64 per cent, according to 2016 census data.
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.