Thousands of people rallied across Canada on Friday to mark 365 days of death and violence since Russia’s invasion began in Ukraine.
Spearheaded by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, some 40 “Stand With Ukraine” events had been planned for major cities across the country, from St. John’s to Whitehorse.
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During a rally in Halifax, word of the added tanks drew a loud round of applause from a crowd of about 200 gathered on the city’s central square next to City Hall.
Seventeen-year-old Polina Kozlova, a refugee who escaped from the city of Kherson after it was occupied, said she came to the ceremony to remember Ukrainians who have died — and to show solidarity with her homeland, where her parents and brother still live.
“Despite the fact it’s really cold today I feel warm in my heart and my soul because I’m with my people and I’m hearing my native language and songs, and I feel the support of our nation,” she said.
A few hundred also braved cold weather in Montreal to gather at Dorchester Square. People carrying Ukrainian flags and candles chanted and sang in support of family members and friends in their homeland.
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“For me, it was very important (to come here today) because I still have my family and friends over there,” Vlada Polishchuk said.
“I also went to Ukraine in November, and I saw with my own eyes what was happening in Ukraine. I am standing here for the children I saw in Ukraine and for women who have been through hell in occupied territory.”
Sebastien Bouffard said that he has friends in Ukraine whom he talks to every day and he has become aware of the devastation the country has endured over the past year.
“They send me pictures, and what Russia is doing is disgusting. Sometimes I tear up when I see the picture. I am 100 per cent with Ukraine.”
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In Toronto, more than a thousand people marched through the downtown before settling in front of City Hall, with many draped or waving the Ukrainian flag while others donned its bright blue and yellow colours. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was also in attendance.
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Trudeau was met by protesters at the vigil spewing angry rhetoric at him during his speech.
In response, he said: “This is a night for Ukrainians, not for you.”
“I think Ukrainians can tell you a little about freedom and liberty, so why don’t you settle down. If you want to stand and cheer with Ukraine, do that. If you want to wave the Ukrainian flag, please do, but let people celebrate that Ukraine is still standing and Canada stands with it.”
Ontario Premier Doug Ford called Putin “nothing more than a tyrant” and a “thug,” and said his war has revealed the strength and resilience of Ukrainians.
Defence Minister Anita Anand said Canada began training Ukrainian troops in 2015 and has trained over 35,000 since then.
“We will keep going. We have trainers in England and Poland right now training members of the Ukrainian Armed Forces so they fight and win this unjust and illegal war,” she told the crowd.
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International student Simran Chawla, who attended the rally, said, “You’ve got to help people who are in trouble … I feel like Canada gets that message.”
Outside the Alberta legislature in Edmonton, hundreds of people braved the cold to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Russia’s attack.
Ukrainians who fled the violence and their Canadian supporters, many holding Ukraine’s flag, looked on as speakers from the Ukrainian Canadian Congress shared words of solidarity and hope.
“They gave us three days. Three days to break us,” said one of the speakers at the rally. “… 365 days later, and we still stand. We still stand strong.”
In a news conference Friday in Kyiv, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told reporters more weapons will allow Ukrainian people to regain their territory.
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“We’re getting ready. We’re ready in spirit. And we’re getting ready as far as weapons are concerned, as far as forming attack brigades are concerned,” Zelenskyy said through a translator.
The yearlong conflict has taken a deadly toll on the Ukrainian population, with tens of thousands of civilians killed and millions more displaced.
With weapons and training from NATO nations and other allies, Ukraine’s military has been able to regain thousands of square kilometres of territory.
— With files from Michael Tutton in Halifax, Marisela Amador in Montreal, Tyler Griffin in Toronto, Angela Amato in Edmonton
© 2023 The Canadian Press
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