By Maitri Shah, Marlorn Edquila, Johnathan Ramcharan and Ishan Sohi
“They are saying we don’t exist; they are trying to take away our history,” – Oleksandra Sakhnatska.
Oleksandra Sakhnatska – a Seneca College alumni whose whole world crashed when she heard about the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24th, 2022. Sakhnatska, originally from Kyiv – the capital of Ukraine, first came to Canada to study computer programming.
When the invasion started, Sakhnatska wanted to help newcomers from Ukraine and started volunteering to help Ukrainians here in Toronto. “I realized that the Ukrainian community in Canada is pretty huge, So I started volunteering….”
It is true – Canada has the most prominent Ukrainian population outside Ukraine and Russia. According to Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada, there are approximately 1.3 million Ukrainians in Canada. So, to help Ukrainians in Canada affected by the war, she started organizing informational help on immigration, settlement work, and more. However, she noticed that there was a lot less news on the invasion and a lack of protests to support Ukraine in Canada, given the country’s sizeable Ukrainian diaspora.
As per wiki, in 2016, there were 1.359,655 Ukrainian living in Canada, which is 3.9% of Canada’s population.
Source: Created with data from wiki on Ukrainian per province in Canada 2016
Taking Matter in one’s own self –
Oleksandra and her friend Ivanna, also from Ukraine, organized their first protest for “Azovstal” and the Azov regiment. Volunteer fighters formed the Azov regiment to fight pro-Russian separatists. But, since the regiment's formation, it has faced allegations of being a pro-nazi, fascist and radical nationalist. However, Oleksandra says, “there was a lot of propaganda about this [Azov] of being Nazi, but they're not… have lots of friends from there.”
According to a report by Reuters, “In 2014, the Azov militia was folded into Ukraine's National Guard - a military wing of the interior ministry. Kyiv says it has been reformed away from its radical nationalist origins and that it has nothing to do with politics.”
Sakhnatska, since the first protest, has continued her activism and helped Ukrainians in Canada with her friends.
Starting the organization –
“It was chaotic,” says Sakhnatska. The activism group, which initially started with Oleksandra and her friends Alexander Percheski and Ivanna, grew in numbers after every protest.
“The team, the group would grow with every new member after every protest; you know it was very chaotic. There was no initial plan. We were working on the plan basically as we [go] and constantly improving. At some point, we realize we are getting bigger and stronger, and our events are getting bigger and more complicated,” says Sakhnatska. So, the group officially registered as a non-profit organization on November 3rd, 2022, under Ukrainian Resistance Canada. Even after nearly a year of the war, the group continues to speak up for Ukraine and provide beneficial information and news to newcomers. And the organization did help a recent immigrant, Maria Cherednychenko.
Maria, who came to Toronto in May 2022, says that the organisation helped her a lot. She says that when she first came to Canada, she was depressed because of the war," you do know where to go, what to do, and this fear for your life. And this anxiety. So it took me about a month to get used to it. Planes flying over my head because, like. In Ukraine, at the very moment the war was official, the full-scale invasion started..."
Maria also thanked Canada and said the process of immigrating to Canada was really easy. And not just Maria, but more than 150,000 Ukrainians have come to Canada, according to the government of Canada.
Source: Data from the government of Canada, Feb 14th 2013.
Maria is currently a student at the University of Toronto; she first attended one of the rallies organized by the Ukraine Resistance group, is now a member of the organization and sings in Ukaining at their rallies to keep morale up, "Ukrainians singing means a lot. And we sing our national anthem and several more songs that have very strong, like a historical background that are, we also say, sing, dance. Some of our military forces keep Ukrainian spirits up. And our compatriots here are motivated and, of course, like when people hear singing, they're more likely to come up and to take a look at what's going on," says Maria.
Not Just Our War?
"You might think it's not your war, or you might think, why should I care? But please remember that we live in a globalized world, and it's kind of like a huge conda. If one condo apartment is on fire, you don't have to shut it down. We'll help to stop it. It will spread to other condos. It might like it might get really ugly, even more, spread to other countries," added Sakhnatsk - Ukraine Resistance organisation's co-founder.
As per Google trends, the interest of people in the Russian invasion of Ukraine was relatively high when the news of the war broke out the previous year; however, gradually, with time, interest on the war has declined significantly.
However, Maria says she understands why not a majority of people care about the war. "that's [the war] a lot of negative emotions and feelings. And I understand that people don't want to get exposed to that. I would be a bit indifferent, I guess, about a country which is not mine. Many people would ask me like, is the war still going on? Do some. Sometimes people just don't even like it. Think because when I say that I came from Ukraine and. They don't even think that there is a war going on so.
Oleksandra Sakhnatska says she only has one message for people in Canada, "Send more weapons..., some people believe that if you don't give weapons to Ukraine if you if Canada stops sending help. Or other countries stop sending help. The war will end. This is not true because the war, in fact, [the war] will continue and will spread even more and spread to other countries."
To learn more about the Ukraine Resistance organization's story and Maria's journey, listen to the podcast below.
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