The conflict between Russia and Ukraine hits close to home for Port Alberni’s Iryna Korynets.
Part of Korynets’ family has fled their homes in embattled Ukraine while other relatives stayed behind, civilians prepared to fight an invading Russian Army.
“My mother is crying all the time,” said Korynets, who left Ukraine and settled in Port Alberni 10 years ago. Her niece, also on the run, has with her a two-month-old baby. “I’m glad they could manage to get to the west.”
They evacuated fearing they could be used as human shields by entrenched Russian forces to prevent fellow Ukrainians from liberating their own cities.
The emotional strain of the crisis was audible Friday (March 4) in Blair Park as Korynets spoke to two dozen local residents who rallied in support for the people of Ukraine. The crowd later marched to Kitsuksis Creek bridge, waving brilliant blue and yellow, the Ukrainian colours, to passing motorists.
In less than two weeks, a military invasion on multiple fronts has triggered a humanitarian crisis not seen in Europe since the Second World War. Russia’s chosen war against its peaceful southern neighbour has shocked the world and violated international law while raising the spectres of genocide and wider conflict.
“I don’t even watch the news, I’m so sick about it,” said Kathy Kznaric, who organized the show of support with the local Beta Sigma Phi sorority.
Men in Korynets’ family remained behind in Zhytomyr, about two hour’s drive west of the capital of Kyiv, to help the Ukrainian Army in its desperate defence of the besieged country. All men between the ages of 18 and 60 were asked to do so.
Korynets expressed gratitude for the support and sanctions provided by western countries including Canada, the U.S. and UK, but wants to see additional measures. Hitting the most powerful, the oligarchs, has not had enough impact. Banks and credit card companies should be acting as well, she feels: “It will hurt more in the wallets of common people because they support Putin.”
(On Sunday, Visa, Mastercard and American Express suspended operations in Russia. Accounting firms and financial institutions have also taken similar action.)
Westerners should not be deceived by Russian president Vladimir Putin’s threats, Korynets said. She believes the Russian Army is ill-equipped for the invasion — “an army made from sticks and plywood” — and that the missile threat is exaggerated as well.
“We’re hoping they will turn their coats around,” said one participant of Ukrainian extraction, suggesting a Russian palace coup should topple Putin.
Many Russian soldiers have run out of supplies, abandoned their vehicles and fled into the forest, Korynets said.
“The Ukrainian army has resisted because the Ukrainian army is a professional army,” she said.