Angel Zitinzki has been running the sausage shop founded by his grandfather for 36 years. The business, located in the Rosemont neighborhood of Montreal, is a very frequented place by the Ukrainian community of this Canadian city. Zitinzki’s family comes from Ternopil, a city about 370 kilometers west of Kiev, although she was born in Canada. “There is a lot of sadness among my clients. There is a lot of uncertainty, despair. Before we played music, we made jokes, ”she says. “I have cousins in Ukraine. I have not heard from them,” she adds.
Canada has the second largest community of Ukrainians abroad (behind only Russia). According to the latest census, about 1.4 million people identified themselves as Canadians of Ukrainian origin. Many of the members of this diaspora – along with other Canadians – have demonstrated against the war in cities such as Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal and Halifax. Protests have also occurred outside the Russian Embassy in Ottawa.
Following the invasion, Canada imposed various sanctions on Moscow. “Russia’s attack on Ukraine is also an attack on democracy, international law and freedom,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on February 24. Ottawa injected 100 million Canadian dollars (78 million US) in humanitarian aid to the attacked country. He also ordered the shipment of rocket launchers, machine guns and grenades. On Tuesday, it authorized an additional 50 million Canadian dollars (39 million US dollars) in military equipment. Likewise, Trudeau has been in frequent communication with Volodymyr Zelenski, the president of Ukraine. The Canadian prime minister said Tuesday in Riga, Latvia, that Vladimir Putin “made a serious mistake in thinking that the Ukrainians were weak and that NATO was divided.” Trudeau is making an official visit to several European capitals this week. The Ukrainian issue occupies a prominent place on the agenda of this trip.
After several days of uncertainty, the Trudeau government announced two programs on March 3 to facilitate the arrival of Ukrainian refugees in Canada. The first is focused on a temporary stay. People will be able to stay on Canadian soil for a maximum of two years, with a work or study permit. The second consists of an accelerated procedure for family reunifications, in order to obtain permanent residence. Ukrainian-Canadian associations, immigrant defense organizations and the New Democratic Party have asked the Canadian government to cancel the visa required by Ukrainians to enter the country. However, Sean Fraser, Minister for Immigration, pointed out that such an arrangement is impossible for security reasons.
Fraser stressed that Canada is willing to take in as many Ukrainians as needed. Provincial and municipal governments have expressed that they will provide support in this task. “We will welcome refugees from Ukraine with open arms,” said Heather Stefanson, Prime Minister of Manitoba. Stefanson’s momentum is not surprising: Her province has the largest population of people of Ukrainian origin in the country. The Canadian Red Cross, the Canada-Ukraine Foundation and the Canadian-Ukrainian Congress, among other agencies, are soliciting monetary donations. Orthodox churches in Canada continue to receive clothing, non-perishable food, personal hygiene and baby products.
“We are collecting two types of support. The first is the most urgent: what is currently needed by those who remain in Ukraine or who arrived in neighboring countries. It is best to donate money to purchase and distribute that aid. The second is what people need when they arrive in Canada,” says Katherine Smolinec, president of the Montreal chapter of the Ukrainian National Federation of Canada. Many Canadian families have signed up to receive Ukrainians into their homes. “A lot of people are helping. On Tuesday a Vietnamese gentleman came to leave a donation. He came out of here crying. He most likely remembered things from his life, ”says Angel Zitinzki. Canada sheltered some 60,000 people after the fall of Saigon. It also received contingents from countries such as Chile, Iran, Haiti and, more recently, Syria.
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The first Ukrainians arrived on Canadian soil in 1891. Other migratory waves increased their number. Katherine Smolinec’s parents arrived in the one that triggered World War II. On December 2, 1991, Canada became the first Western country to recognize Ukraine’s independence. Several familiar faces are part of the Ukrainian-Canadian community. One of them is Wayne Gretzki, considered by many fans to be the greatest ice hockey player of all time. Another is the late Alex Trebek, host for decades of the American television show Jeopardy!
Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Finance, Deputy Prime Minister and former head of the Foreign Ministry, is also part of this group. She is the granddaughter of Ukrainians; Her mother, born in a refugee camp in Germany, became a well-known activist for the Ukrainian community in Canada. Freeland has been involved like few others in standing up to Russia for her aggression against Ukraine. In 2014, Canada imposed trade sanctions and banned certain Russian citizens from entering the country in the wake of the invasion of Crimea. Moscow responded by vetoing some Canadians. Chrystia Freeland appeared on the list. “We are with Ukraine in this fight,” she wrote on Twitter this Wednesday, which not a few perceive as Trudeau’s natural successor.
In recent days, two Orthodox churches and a Russian community center were vandalized in Canada following the start of Vladimir Putin’s invasion. The Ukrainian-Canadian Congress spoke out against these events, condemning acts of vandalism, violence and harassment towards any community. “We are overwhelmed and stressed with all the work to send humanitarian aid. We don’t have the time or the desire to create tensions with the Russian community,” says Katherine Smolinec.
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