Vernon city hall was the scene of a solemn and emotional gathering Friday evening (Feb. 24) when a candlelight vigil was held to mark one year since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
More than 100 people — many of them Ukrainian newcomers to the community — came out in the bitter cold donning Ukrainian flags, flowers and candles to honour the strength of those still fighting in the sovereign European nation, and to show solidarity with the thousands of Ukrainians who have been displaced by the war.
Andrea Malysh, president of the Thompson-Okanagan branch of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, organized the vigil.
“For the past 365 days of resistance, the heroic Ukrainian armed forces and the Ukrainian people have stood united in defence of freedom in Europe, in the face of Russia’s genocidal onslaught,” Malysh said to open the vigil.
Malysh thanked Vernon Immigration, NexusBC, School District 22 and “many others” for accommodating Ukrainians arriving in Vernon over the past year.
She said the Ukrainian Canadian Congress continues to ask for donations towards the Canada Ukraine Foundation, which has boots on the ground delivering supplies to those in Ukraine. She said anyone who wants to donate can visit cufoundation.ca.
“The Ukrainian Canadian Congress expresses its gratitude to all Canadians for their generous assistance to many humanitarian and charitable causes in support of Ukraine for their welcome of over 100,000 Ukrainians who have sought refuge in Canada from Russia’s war,” Malysh said.
Kseniia Rudenko, a Ukrainian now in Vernon, translated the speeches from English to Ukrainian. On several occasions, she broke down in tears during her translation. Malysh explained there were missiles flying over Rudenko’s home city in Ukraine that same day.
“It’s a very difficult day for everyone,” Malysh said.
Teresa Durning spoke on behalf of North Okanagan-Shuswap MP Mel Arnold, who could not attend the vigil as he had a prior engagement.
“The world irreversibly changed when Vladimir Putin launched his unprovoked and illegal attack on Ukraine on Feb. 24 last year,” Durning said. “Conservatives will press the government to continue to stand with Ukraine.”
Vernon-Monashee MLA Harwinder Sandhu said she was thinking of her “many friends of Ukrainian descent” on Friday.
“We all need to stand united against war and injustices like this,” she said.
Vernon Mayor Victor Cumming also spoke at the vigil, telling the Ukrainians in the gathering that “the world has witnessed your strength and courage.”
Ukrainian newcomer Fedir Solovei was with his family at the vigil and took a turn on the mic. The family came to Vernon in early April 2022, and Solovei said since then they have been welcomed warmly, having secured jobs, transportation and accommodation, and having gotten their kids into school.
“Every day we feel support and help from Canadians,” Solovei said. “And we are so grateful for this help, for this support, especially at this crucial moment for the Ukrainian nation.”
Friday’s vigil was one of many that took place across the country and around the world to mark the grim anniversary of the beginning of the war.