University of Manitoba students joined post-secondary schools across Canada to attend a virtual lecture from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy Wednesday morning.
The event, organized by the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, came as the Russian invasion of Ukraine and ensuing war nears its fourth month.
While many Ukrainians have stayed to fight in the war, millions have also fled as refugees, including to Manitoba, as the West supports the country with military and humanitarian aid.
Zelenskyy has spoken in virtual addresses to governments across the world, including the Canadian House of Commons, the U.S. Congress and the U.K. Parliament in March.
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, Chrystia Freeland, a staunch supporter of the eastern European nation and a Ukrainian-Canadian, introduced Zelenskyy ahead of his address to students at universities in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia.
"The people of Ukraine are telling us that democracy is worth fighting for," she said.
Zelenskyy began his 20-minute speech by speaking about a University of Toronto conference he attended about reforms in Ukraine and its future, drawing parallels between the conversations he had then with Canadian political leaders and the current realities of the war-torn nation. He ended his address by thanking Canada for its military and financial support.
"In 2019, I was talking about peace in the east of Ukraine with (Freeland) and Prime Minister (Justin) Trudeau," he said through a translator, referring to the Russian-backed seperatist conflict which began in 2014.
At that time, he said, he spoke about rebuilding in the east, which he estimated would cost $10 billion. Now, he said, the country will need "hundreds of billions" of dollars to rebuild nationwide.
He then took a series of questions from students, ranging on topics of his historical and literary heros, the power of the internet and social media, and the need for the West to support democracy.
U of M medicine student Mitchell Wilson, 21, listened to the address at the Bannatyne campus, while others attended at the university’s main Fort Garry Campus.
"Canadians have seen on the news and everything how much the (Canadian) governement is supporting the country and that’s for a reason — Canada’s filled with a lot of Ukrainian heritage… so I think it was important to come and see and connect with the leader of the country that our country’s been supporting so much," Wilson said.
"I think we all support him — what he’s doing on the world stage."
Erik Pindera reports for the city desk, with a particular focus on crime and justice.