By Jake MacAndrew
Canadian residents, Ukrainian refugees and politicians gathered at Nathan Phillips Square last Friday to rally in support of Ukraine at the one-year anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of the country.
After a crowd met at Yonge-Dundas Square, attendees marched to Nathan Phillips Square for a rally presentation.
The presentation included speeches from several government officials, politicians and guests—including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, minister of defence Anita Anand, deputy mayor of Toronto Jennifer McKelvie, Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre and president of the national Ukrainian Canadian Congress Alexandra Chyczij.
Earlier on Feb. 24, Trudeau announced a new round of military support, including four new Leopard 2 tanks for Ukraine.
These tanks are the main battle tanks for the Canadian Armed Forces and have “a tactical advantage in the form of mobility, firepower, and survivability,” according to the Government of Canada.
“Mr. Putin, we will stand with Ukraine as long as it takes, as much as it takes,” said Trudeau at the rally, in reference to Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Some attendees were Ukrainians who fled their country when Russia invaded on Feb. 24, 2022.
Among those in attendance was Nikki Bura, who told The Eyeopener she fled Ukraine when the invasion started, but that her parents are still back home. She and her sister, Ana Bura, who stood by her side at the rally, left Kyiv to visit them just outside the capital but were quickly forced to escape abroad.
“[Our parents said], you just need to grab all the necessary things and go away, “ said Nikki Bura. “We went to the subway and spent more than 24 hours [trying] to leave Kyiv.”
“We are here, we are standing, we are fighting. Please hear us”
Other attendees were Ukrainians who immigrated prior to the full-scale invasion but still have family members living back home.
Kateryna Liutovych moved to Canada from Ukraine over a year ago at the age of 17, but their grandparents still live back in Ukraine.
“[My grandparents] are not worried about their well-being because they would rather be at home than anywhere else,” said Liutovych. “They feel like they need to be home. They feel like they need to be there for everyone.”
Liutvoych attended the event, hoping it gains attention from the Canadian government and spreads information about Russian attacks against Ukraine.
“Everyone knows about the war but not everyone understands what the war is, what the situation is,” they said. “So I really feel the need to show everyone the facts that are happening.”
Some attendees were not born in Ukraine but could feel the war affecting their connections to the country.
Irena Fedchun attended the rally in the hopes there is realization of the severity of the conflict around the world.
“My parents are from Ukraine and I have a lot of relatives there and my heart is there,” she said. “It brings me to tears that this kind of cruelty can exist. That the rest of the world is essentially, more or less, allowing it to happen.”
People with connections to Russia’s neighbouring countries were also present Friday night to show their support for Ukraine.
“Being Estonian, the Ukrainians are fighting for us. It’s actually a very emotional thing for me because it could have been us [fighting with Russia],” said attendee Arnold Tralla.
Estonia, as a former Soviet country like Ukraine, has experienced various conflicts with Russia in past decades.
In January 2023, Estonia downsized the Russian embassy in solidarity with Ukraine, according to Reuters.
“We have to continue to support Ukraine,” said Tralla. “This is something that is going to affect the entire world.”
The Ukrainian Canadian Congress said the event was to “reflect on the ongoing crisis and the devastating impact it has on the people of Ukraine, on the global community drawn into this war and on the threat it has posed to democracy and national security,” according to a press release sent to The Eye.
Attendee Danylo Balabanov’s hope at the rally was to send aid back to friends and family in Ukraine while raising awareness about the war.
He said more ammunition, support for food in captured regions where supplies are low and money to buy armour for soldiers is a priority for the country to recuperate.
“Life is hard for a lot of [Ukrainian residents] but most of them are trying to get back to a normal life,” said Balabanov.
Throughout the night, chants of “Slava Ukraini” (Glory to Ukraine) were heard in unison by attendees and speakers alike.
“We are here, we are standing, we are fighting. Please hear us,” Bura said.
With files from Gabriela Silva Ponte