Kamloops residents worried about family and friends caught in the middle of a war zone in Ukraine have endured sleepless nights since Russia invaded the European country less than a week ago.
Concern, and the desire to help out despite being a world apart, brought about 60 people to Columbia Street and about 300 more to Riverside Park on Saturday, where they rallied to raise awareness and support for the crisis. Many at the events were Ukrainian students studying at Thompson Rivers University.
KTW spoke with those who gathered on Columbia Street.
“We didn’t sleep well for three nights,” Yuliia Medvedieva said of herself and her husband.
The 28-year-old TRU employee and former student has tried to help out from afar, directing her loved ones in Ukraine to empty houses in small towns, where they can hide out if they need to get to safety.
“I hope that it will help,” Medvedieva told KTW. “Every 15 minutes, I call somebody to ask if they need help, if they need some safe place to move.”
Medvedieva has lived in Kamloops for six years, her husband for three, and the couple has a two-year-old daughter. Medvedieva said she hasn’t seen her parents in four years and was looking forward to a previously planned trip to visit her hometown, an hour from Odessa — a visit now upended by the invasion.
Marina Radushynska, 21, has been glued to news coverage of the war, missing meals and losing sleep in the process.
“It’s really heartbreaking to see what’s happening to my home right now,” she said. “I don’t know when I’ll be able to visit and the next time I visit, there might not be any home,” she said.
Radushynska, a student at TRU, has been in Kamloops for four years.
Radushynska’s mother was visiting her in Kamloops when Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began on Feb. 24 and is now unable to return home to the rest of the family — her 18-year-old daughter and husband — as Ukrainian airspace has been closed.
They live in the central-west part of the country and, while it’s not as dangerous as the east, Radushynska said, family members have had to hide in bomb shelters, there has been bombing and sirens sounding and military personnel are in the streets.
Radushynska said she has cried often, but is trying to be strong for her mother, who is upset she cannot return home to help her family.
Hryhorii Pertaia, 24, who studies at TRU and has called Canada home for seven years, said he is in contact daily with his family in Ukraine. He said his hometown in southeastern Ukraine is thus far quiet, though his 49-year old father told him Russian troops were nearby and that he had signed up to defend the city.
Ukrainian men ages 18 to 60 are not allowed to leave the country and could be called on to fight if need be.
“I feel super worried,” Pertaia said. “I wouldn’t want him to die. I wouldn’t want him to go, but at the same time, I have the biggest respect for him and I feel if I was there, I would do the same.”
Radushynska said she has an uncle and two brothers involved in the fighting, but her dad, as of Saturday, had not been called in. She noted she was told it was too dangerous to try to move her sister out of the country.
“Civilians are given guns to protect their lands, they’re doing the Molotov cocktails to stop the tanks — it’s really hard to focus on work or studying right now,” Radushynska said.
Andrii Lobanov could be found leading the Saturday morning rally on Columbia Street with a bullhorn.
The 22-year-old business student has made Kamloops home for five years, but his family — parents, five-year-old sister and two grandfathers — remains in the town of Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi, located in southern Ukraine, near Odessa.
Lobanov said he has been in contact with his family members, and, as of Saturday, there has not been much fighting in the city, but his parents tell him they are at the ready in case bombing starts.
“Any war in Europe is a thing that can shatter our whole reality and the way our world stands,” Lobanov said, noting the Russian invasion of Ukraine is one of the most important events since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, or the Second World War.
Tatyana Dikareva, 35, is originally from Ukraine, but has lived in Kamloops for a decade. Her Ukrainian husband moved here two years ago.
Both have numerous family members back home who have been hiding in shelters whenever sirens sound amidst the Russian attack. She said it’s been hard to sleep at night knowing there’s not much she can do.
Shock, fear and support amongst the reactions to war in Ukraine
Lobanov, who was one of the organizers of Saturday's rally, said he had mixed feelings when the war began.
“At first, I didn’t believe and I still cannot believe this happened, but I have a feeling of wrath and anger and determination that we can stop this war and it will finish in victory of Ukraine,” he said.
Radushynska had hoped, despite warnings, the Russian invasion wouldn’t occur. She was cooking dinner when she saw it unfolding on TV.
“I was like, is it a joke? I started to turn up the volume and they were saying there were explosions all over Ukraine. I called my sister right away. She was crying, they were running away to the bunker right away and it was heartbreaking,” Radushynska said.
Medvedieva said she was scared when she heard the news and made a quick call to her parents to warn them.
“We panicked at the beginning, but after that, we started to plan what to do,” she said, adding that was difficult given the fluidity of the situation.
She said her parents have since left the country, fleeing into Western Europe through Moldova about an hour before Russian tanks moved in.
Dikareva said she saw the invasion coming, given the buildup of Russian troops along the Ukrainian border, but held out hope an attack wouldn’t occur.
“And then when it happened, it’s a complete shocker,” she said.
Dikareva reached out to family and friends when the fighting started. Hailing from one of the conflict areas in eastern Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatists have taken control, Dikareva said she knows her people stand with Ukraine and hopes the fighting will stop.
“Nobody wants those deaths,” she said. “We’ve got to stop this. It’s the 21st century. We’ve got to spread love, not war.”
Anastasiia Muzyka, a TRU student and Wolfpack volleyball setter who previously spoke with KTW hours after the invasion began, could be found helping circulate a petition at Saturday’s rally. The document called for the Canadian federal government to increase sanctions on Russia.
Muzyka, who also has many family members in Ukraine, said it’s important to get the word out about the crisis, noting she has found that many of her close circle of university friends didn’t fully understand what was happening abroad.
“I’ve had to come in and tell them, ‘Listen, people, you have to know what’s happening and it’s really important for you to be knowledgeable in this situation and support as much as possible,’” Muzyka said.
Jeanne Olineck, founder of Pokotillo Ukrainian Dancers in Kamloops, also attended Saturday’s rally on Columbia Street.
She told KTW she is sick of seeing history repeat itself, noting previous attacks in history by Russia on Ukraine.
“We need people to push our leaders to do these massive sanctions because if we kill the Russian economy, he [Russian President Vladimir Putin] doesn’t have the money to carry out his war,” Olineck said.
She said she hasn’t been able to sleep since the war started, thinking of all the senseless deaths.
The Kamloops resident has Ukrainian heritage, but her family has been in Canada since the late 1800s.
She said there are a number of ways Kamloopsians can help — financially with donations to the Red Cross, to the Ukrainian Army or to the Canada-Ukraine Foundation, or by signing petitions or lobbying their member of Parliament.
She warned that people should ensure they send money to the cause directly and not to people saying they are collecting funds on behalf of Ukraine.
Standing in solidarity
The demonstration along Columbia Street on Saturday involved not only members of Kamloops’s Ukrainian community, but Kamloopsians of various backgrounds.
Jeff Morgan, a 20-year Kamloops resident, could be found in a blue jacket and yellow pants, adorned to resemble the Ukrainian flag. Of Western European heritage, Morgan said he felt compelled to attend the rally to support both Ukrainians internationally and the local Ukrainian community.
“You want to raise awareness and demonstrate support for Ukraine, demonstrate to all levels of government you want to support them,” the retired biologist said.
Arthur Morgan from the Bonaparte First Nation in Cache Creek could be found waving a Ukrainian flag at the rally. The 57-year-old wanted to show his support as he has made friends online with people in Ukraine.
“They’re in subways, cellars, they want to get out of Ukraine to Poland, but they can’t,” Morgan said. “They’re not fighters, they’re just normal people like me.”
Morgan said he feels for the people in Ukraine as his ancestors had their land invaded, too, noting a comparison to colonialism in North America.
“There’s similarities where somebody comes in and tries to bully you around and it doesn’t work. It always backfires on them,” Morgan said.