Under a bright blue sky and golden sun, hundreds of people filled Comox’s Marina Park Saturday afternoon, waving blue and gold flags, holding balloons or wearing ribbons to show support for Ukraine.
The organizers, Stefan Szkwarek and Sviatoslav Pylypchuk, wanted the community to send a message to people back in Ukraine that the world is behind them in the face of the current attacks by Russia. Szkwarek is of Ukrainian descent but is from Canada, while Pylypchuk was born and raised in Ukraine and came to Canada almost a decade ago.
“As Ukrainians, we don’t war, we want peace…. In this moment I’ve never been prouder to be Ukrainian,” Szkwarek said. “The West must act now.”
For Pylypchuk, the conflict hits close to home. As a newer Canadian, he still has many family members back in his home country, but he was awed by the turnout Saturday.
“I’m so proud to be amongst you all,” he said.
He also thanked people from other countries for the support they had shown Ukraine, in particular Poland.
“This is a true test for all of us,” he said. “We are all on the same page.”
The two also said people were there to raise funds to help the cause. One kiosk was taking money for medical donations. Another was raising funds to purchase bullet-proof vests and thermal imaging equipment to help Ukrainians during the attacks.
The event also featured speakers like Comox Valley Ukrainian Cultural Society’s Sharon McEwan, Comox Mayor Russ Arnott, Courtenay Mayor Bob Wells, North Island-Powell River MP Rachel Blaney and Courtenay-Comox MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard, with all talking about their connections to Ukraine and the need to help people there.
Blaney passed on regards from her colleague Gord Johns, who was on his way back from Ottawa. She said her office had been inundated with messages from people with relations in Ukraine who were trying to make sure they were safe.
“It’s hard to listen to these stories,” she said.
With a million people already having fled Ukraine, Blaney said Canada is ready to sponsor people and added the federal government needs to remove visas required for people fleeing Ukraine.
“We have to stand up against Russia every step of the way,” she said.
Leonard talked about her family’s background in a Manitoba community with mixed ethnic groups and how important that was to show how people of different ethnic groups can co-operate.
“It’s that joining together that’s making a difference,” she said.
She also said the province is trying to do what it can to help, whether it was removing Russian liquor from government stores, donating to the Red Cross or even looking at making land titles more transparent to make sure no Russian oligarchs owned property in the province.
At the end of the event, the Ukrainian national anthem was played over the loudspeakers — its title, as Szkwarek said, translates as “Ukraine has not yet perished.”