Hundreds gather in Vancouver to support Ukraine

As the crisis in Ukraine deepens, hundreds of people gathered in the Vancouver Art Gallery’s north plaza on Saturday for the second weekend in a row, calling for Canada and the world to support Ukrainians.

“The war is not over – the bombs are still killing civilians in Ukraine,” said Natalie Jatskeich, of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress Vancouver branch.

“They are not just ruining infrastructure, it’s daycares and orphanages and people’s homes.”

On Monday, Ukrainian president Volodymr Zelensky said at least 16 children had been killed and 45 injured in the first four days of the Russian invasion.

Members of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress and many participants in Saturday’s protest said that number is likely much higher now.

Among the lives lost is 16-year-old Ivan, who was shot at by Russian soldiers while in a car with his mother in Kharkiv.

According to his family members, who do not want to be identified, the mother and son were driving when they noticed a road up ahead that was blocked by military vehicles. When they turned around and started driving away, their family says, they were shot at. Ivan was pronounced dead in hospital two days later. His mother of him is still in hospital and is in critical condition.

Ivan’s grandmother relayed the horrific news in a text to her niece, Anna Okorokov, who lives in Vancouver.

Okorokov translated the message, which read, in part:

“On Feb. 28, Russian soldiers shot at a civilian car. A bullet hit the lungs of my grandson Ivan. Doctors were fighting to save his life from him for two days, but they could not save him. My grief is unthinkable.”

“They are still shooting at civilian neighbourhoods,” Okorokov’s aunt said. “There are many destroyed buildings in the city and dead people who were peaceful civilians.”

Okorokov’s aunt asked her to share the text message with the media, as Russia is still saying they are only shooting at the military and nationalists.

“My grandson was not a nationalist or a soldier. I have lived a happy life, studied in college and wanted to work in business. We will never forgive the Russian government and its disgraceful soldiers for the deaths of our children and our grandchildren,” said Okorokov’s aunt.

“Ivan’s life was taken away by the stupid ambitions of the fascist dictator Putin. I was a proud grandmother of nine grandchildren, I now cannot sleep and worry for their lives and future,” she added.

Kharkiv is Ukraine’s second-largest city and has been under heavy shelling by Russian forces all week, according to Ukrainian officials. It is about 40 kilometers away from the Russian border.

“These are people who speak Russian, who have very close ties with Russia and family and friends that live right across the border,” said Okorokov.

Across the world in Vancouver, Ukrainian citizens and Canadians demand the world to do more.

“We are still begging for NATO to close our sky,” said Pavlo Ponikarovskyi, one of the organizer’s for Saturday’s protest.

“I understand they don’t want to start war with a nuclear power, but at least give us plans so we can fly them. Our people will die protecting us. Give us the equipment so we can protect our children, our families, our houses, our savings, our culture, our identity,” he added.

Organizers are also calling on supporters to donate to Ukrainian aid and to pressure Canadian politicians to take a stronger stance against Russia.

Another rally is scheduled for Sunday at 1 pm at Vancouver’s Jack Poole Plaza.

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