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Fears over a home far away

City's Ukrainians see history repeated

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 2/3/2014 (1269 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Echoes from boots on pavement half a world away fell hard on Winnipeg's frozen streets Sunday.

There was a visceral sense of urgency among the Ukrainian-Canadian parishioners at Sts. Vladimir and Olga, a North End cathedral on McGregor Street known for drawing immigrants and relatives of immigrants.

Nataliya Pidchuk talks about the situation in Ukraine following the service at Sts. Vladimir & Olga Cathedral on McGregor Street Sunday morning.


Nataliya Pidchuk talks about the situation in Ukraine following the service at Sts. Vladimir & Olga Cathedral on McGregor Street Sunday morning.

Vastly different personal experiences of Ukraine were expressed by parishioners at the cathedral, but they hit the same themes.

As the mass devoted to the Ukrainian crisis in the Crimea ended, parishioners shared their fears with a sense of immediacy as if they were in Ukraine themselves.

Nataliya Pidchuk, who left Ukraine a decade ago, said she was swept back across the world. Her family, home, work and a six-year-old son are here in Winnipeg, but her heart is in Kyiv right now.

The number of dead in Kyiv, the wounded and the missing were as immediate as if time and distance collapsed and she was warming her hands over fires in Independence Square.

"We know the names of the 84 dead, the 300 missing, the 600 wounded," she said.

Terry Babick, a family doctor whose grandparents settled in Winnipeg a century ago, said he's worried about his relatives. He can't reach them and hasn't spoken to them since the fighting started.

This weekend's escalating rush of events in Crimea evoked a past the Winnipeg doctor never lived, but old apprehensions came alive again nonetheless.

"We're worried; it's very early on in this event, but people remember what's happened before," Babick said. Democracy is in peril in Ukraine, he added.

Ihor Gawrachynsky was eight years old when he escaped during the dying days of the Second World War, fleeing across a ravaged Europe with his frightened mother, his father and uncle left behind in shallow graves as Soviet troops took over Ukraine.

"We've been a target of Russia. We've had this happen before. This reminds us of what's happened before," he said.

Parishioners were clear on who they blame.

"You'll notice I don't refer to the Russian people," said Babick. "I refer to Mr. Putin. This is not the action of the Russian people... it's Putin." On Sunday, Ukraine's prime minister urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to pull back his military in the conflict between the two countries, warning: "We are on the brink of disaster."

Arseniy Yatsenyuk's comment came as Russian troops rolled toward Simferopol, the capital of Ukraine's Crimea region, a day after Russian forces took over the strategic Black Sea peninsula.

Ukrainian Catholic churches from Winnipeg to Edmonton listened hard as parish priests read the same message from the same religious leader, the Ukraine-based Patriarch Sviatoslav Shevchuk. The faithful heard and prayed for God's intercession from hundreds of altars.

Sunday's mass followed on the heels of a fundraising event and prayers for the dead the previous night at Winnipeg's Prosvita Institute, which is on Arlington Street.

The brick-and-mortar building, a few blocks north of the Winnipeg cathedral, is a monument to Ukrainian immigrants and it was standing room only for the event Saturday.

By the time the doctor and his family left, perhaps 1,000 people were crowded inside, he said.

"It was a large gathering. There must have been 1,000 people there when we left. Ukrainians are banding together... what's going on 10,000 miles away, we very much see these events as crimes against humanity," he said.

Winnipeg has the third-largest population of people of Ukrainian heritage in Canada after Edmonton and Toronto. Canada has the world's third-largest Ukrainian population after Ukraine and Russia.

"Our worst fears have come to fruition," said Oksana Bondarchuk, Manitoba president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.

"Are we totally surprised? Absolutely not."

She said most suspected once the Olympic Games in Sochi ended, Putin would make his presence known in Ukraine.

"I hope the world comes to the aid of Ukraine to run its own country -- a country that respects democratic rights, civil liberties and the rule of law not the rule of the oligarchs."

Winnipeg's Ukrainian community raised $26,000 Saturday night to help the protesters injured in Independence Square in Kyiv, said Bondarchuk. More Manitoba fundraising events are being planned in Ukrainian communities outside Winnipeg, she said.


-- with file by Carol Sanders

Read more by Alexandra Paul.


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