A large crowd assembled outside a Ukrainian church in Vernon Saturday to show support for Ukraine and condemnation for Russia as the war between the two countries rages on.
Contempt for President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 could be smelled in the air as protesters burned a Russian hat on the sidewalk in front of the Vernon Ukrainian Orthodox Church, where close to 200 people gathered Saturday to show their support for the European country under attack.
Many of the people in attendance have relatives who are currently in Ukraine and they’re fearing for the safety of their loved ones.
“I’m here because my two nephews are in Ukraine,” said Carol Unger, fighting back tears while holding up photographs of her relatives. She said her nephews have worked at orphanages in Ukraine since 2006. One of them has a wife and six-month-old baby, also currently in Ukraine.
“We haven’t heard from them lately, “she said. “They’re trying to get out today to another country.”
Protester Brian Bonenfant said his wife is currently in Melitopol, Ukraine, with her three children. She was working in Kyiv when the bombs started. One of them landed within 200 metres of her mother’s apartment.
“I think Putin is a criminal,” Bonenfant said. “The Russian people have to send him on his way.”
He said he’d like to see Canada welcome Ukrainian refugees without visas and vet them after their arrival.
“Let them into the country and I would gladly drive down to Toronto or Montreal to pick up my wife and kids.”
So far, at least 198 Ukrainians have been killed as a result of the war, the Ukrainian health minister said in a Facebook post Saturday morning. Countries around the world have imposed harsh sanctions on Russia, including Canada, which on Thursday announced sanctions against 58 people and entities connected to Russia, including key political leaders, oligarchs and financial institutions.
Dennis Kreptul, who has a Ukrainian background on both sides of his family, had strong words to describe what’s unfolding in Ukraine.
“I’ve come out to show solidarity with those poor folks in Ukraine who are enduring a totally senseless war by a madman.”
Kreptul has two cousins in the southwest of Ukraine, where the situation is relatively quiet according to family members he heard from a couple hours before the rally.
“What they’re seeing there is a lot of tension and many of the young men have signed up for defence force,” he said. “As much as possible, if (Canada) can get them arms and moral support, that would be the best thing. We have support from people of all backgrounds here.”