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‘From worrying, to frightening’: Okanagan Ukrainians express concern over Russian invasion

A rally for Ukraine is taking place at the Kelowna City Hall on Saturday, Feb. 26 at 4 p.m.
Ukrainians and supporters rally downtown Kelowna on Feb. 24. (jacqueline gelineau/ Capital News)

When Peter Bihun got up this morning, he was afraid to turn on the television to see what was going on.

The president of the Dolyna Ukrainian Cultural Society is now watching carefully, still a little hopeful he said that Ukraine will be able to resist Russia’s invasion.

“I received an email from my cousin this morning, and she’s telling us to pray for Ukraine,” he said. “They’re quite afraid. We went from worrying, to frightening.”

Father Pavlo Myts, the Pastor of the Dorminition Mother of God Ukrainian Catholic Church in Kelowna and the Holy Resurrection Church of Penticton, said people were praying until midnight.

“We all have family in the East and West Ukraine,” said Myts. “My family is in Ukraine. My brother, sister, their families, my mother, my wife’s family, other cousins, are all there.”

Of the 30 families directly involved in the cultural society, almost all of them have families that still live in Ukraine, and they aren’t alone in the Okanagan.

“There’s probably in the Kelowna area about 14,000 people who have Ukrainian heritage,” Bihun said.

Some of those people, like Bihun, used to travel regularly back to Ukraine to visit their family and friends.

“One family I was talking to yesterday, her mother is there and her close relatives, and they’ve been in contact with them and it’s very fearful,” said Buhin.

Ukrainians and supporters rally downtown Kelowna on Feb. 24. (jacqueline gelineau/ Capital News)
Ukrainians and supporters rally downtown Kelowna on Feb. 24. (jacqueline gelineau/ Capital News)

READ MORE: Ukrainian leader: Russian forces trying to seize Chernobyl

The fear that many families feel in Canada is shared by their relatives in Ukraine, he said, but the people aren’t going to give up or run away. “Ukraine will fight”, he said.

The current conflict didn’t come entirely as a surprise to Buhin, nor to many of those, he knows in Ukraine. In many ways, it is a continuation of the Crimean conflict of 2014.

“The Ukrainians have lost over 15,000 people fighting them already. Fighting a war is not something strange to the people, their young people have been going to the front now for eight years,” said Buhin.

Buhin sees what’s happening in Russia as only a first strike from a Russian leader determined to rebuild the Soviet Union by force. It’s something that the rest of the world will need to face down while it can before Putin’s territorial ambitions go further, he added.

Father Myts said that his family in Ukraine have told him that there are already shortages of water and food and that they can’t even flee their city because there isn’t enough gas at the stations.

“One of the strikes, it was only about 35 kilometres from my hometown,” said Myts.

“Right now the biggest help, from the west, will be the democratic countries getting together and really doing some economic damage to Russia, not just a few billionaires. Their billionaires know how to hide money, it needs to be a crushing financial blow to Russia.”

Despite the size of the Russian army, the extent of their bombing campaign, and the speed with which they’re moving, Buhin still holds out hope for the Ukrainian people to endure.

“It’s like David and Goliath, and with Russia being the aggressor with a huge army, we all know what happened to Goliath and we can only hope that happens here.”

Myts is pleading for international aid and for the world to unite, as “they will not stop unless the world gets together.”

A rally for Ukraine is taking place at the Kelowna City Hall on Saturday, Feb. 26 at 4 p.m. People of all backgrounds are invited to come out in support and bring Ukrainian flags and wear blue and yellow if they can.

Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran has spoken out about Russia’s attacks on Ukraine stating deep concern.

“We stand with the people of Ukraine and their democratically elected government, and all the Ukrainian-Canadians who call Kelowna home,” he said. “We condemn Russia’s unprovoked attacks. As a community and as individuals, we need to denounce this senseless violence.”

Support can be sent to the Emergency Humanitarian Aid to the People of Ukraine, organized by CNEWA Canada. Support for the beleaguered Ukrainians can also be sent through the Ukrainian Canadian Congress and Canada-Ukraine Foundation, who have established a humanitarian fund.

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Brennan Phillips

About the Author: Brennan Phillips

Brennan was raised in the Okanagan and is thankful every day that he gets to live and work in one of the most beautiful places in Canada.
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