Ukrainians in the Waterloo Region are scared and feel “helpless” as their home nation continues to face invasion from Russia. However, they are uniting together and doing what they can to help their families, while also helping spread awareness to Canadians amid a very challenging time.
Zakhar and other Ukrainians have been vocal about their cause, having organized rallies in Kitchener and Waterloo over the past few days. Out of concern for his family’s safety back in Ukraine, we will not be using his last name. Zakhar helped organize Support for Ukraine rallies in Kitchener and Toronto.
Several Ukrainians spoke at Saturday’s rally by the Victoria Park Clock Tower in Kitchener – while those in attendance sang Ukraine’s national anthem in unity against the war. Another Support for Ukraine rally was held at Victoria Park the next day, where hundreds more attended.
“We are trying to make sure Canadians know what’s going on,” Zakhar said. Regional Chair Karen Redman, Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic and Waterloo Mayor Dave Jaworsky spoke at Sunday’s rally. Kitchener-Conestoga MP Tim Louis was in attendance as well.
The Russian invasion, which began last week, has severely impacted Zakhar. He has 17 family members, including his parents, that are back in Ukraine. His parents, who live in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, are stuck in their home, which is in close proximity to locations of the Russian military. As the week has gone on, the Russian side has entered Kyiv. The majority of his family were able to evacuate to southern parts of the country. As of Friday, Mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, said his city was in “defense” mode.
“Unfortunately, any kind of attempt for them to escape where [my parents are] located now, they deem impossible at the moment,” said Zakhar, “It’s hard to escape those shelters, and so they’re going to wait and see what situation unfolds.”
In the meantime, his parents cook during the day and have been avoiding being in rooms with windows.
“People are feeling very scared, but our Ukrainian army is very strong,” he said.
In January 2019, Zakhar filed an application to get his parents permanent residency in Canada. Three years later, he says the process is going, but with recent events, he has contacted the Government of Canada in hopes of expediting the process and getting his parents to safety.
However, with Canadian embassies closed in Ukraine, they would have to flee to nearby Poland to be able to obtain a possible visa. Zakhar says it would be very dangerous for them to get to Poland via car, or even get to an emergency shelter at this point.
The Government of Canada is prioritizing visa applications for Ukrainians seeking asylum. Some Ukrainians believe Canada should further open its borders to refugees while simplifying the visa process completely.
Zakhar spent an hour on the phone on a newly launched emergency phone line by the federal government. He said the government was very helpful and will be sending him information on how to expedite the immigration process.
Michael Doroshenko, who lives in Waterloo, was a fellow organizer at Saturday’s Victoria Park rally.
Doroshenko’s parents and grandma are back in Sumy, Ukraine, which made him feel very “helpless” in the past few days. Since their town is surrounded by Russian troops, Doroshenko says it would be very difficult for his family to flee anywhere.
“I’m still in shock, the past few days have really shaken me, it’s been really hard, and I know other people are going through the same thing,” he said.
Doroshenko, who has lived in Waterloo for eight years, says his family just stays home and tries to stay safe to the “best of their ability.” He thinks Canada can do even more to help Ukraine, open up refugee streams, and simplify the immigration process. He says Canadians can also help through donations through reputable organizations.
Despite feeling “helpless” this week, Doroshenko felt he could make a difference by organizing and participating in the protest.
“It’s important for us Ukrainians to see so much support to see Ukrainian people, to see Canadian people here support us,” he said. “It really matters a lot, especially for people like me who have been so stressed and devastated in the past few days.”