Montreal’s Ukrainian Community, One Year Into the War

Ukrainians in Montreal Reflect on The Impact of Russia’s Invasion

Montreal’s Ukrainian community rallies for the war’s one-year anniversary. Photo Anna Aglietta

Stuck in Kryvyi Rih, Katerina Ivanov had to find a way to leave the city when the Russian invasion of Ukraine began. During her challenging escape, she witnessed the consequences of the war firsthand.

On Feb. 24, 2022, Russian military forces launched attacks on major Ukrainian cities. Since the war began, 21,293 civilian casualties have been reported

One year later, Ukrainians in Montreal have taken the time to reflect on how the conflict has impacted them. 

Sofia, a Ukrainian student from the Université de Montréal, said the anniversary was a hard time for her to process emotionally. 

“I felt extreme survivor’s guilt. But the war has started, and it made you feel so small, with a disparity that I couldn’t do anything,” she said. 

For Sofia, the first few months of the war were the toughest. “I used to sit and watch the news at home and it would lead me to severe depression. Living through it with friends really kept me alive,” she explained. 

In hopes of making a change, she decided to start volunteering at St. Michael’s Ukrainian Church to help those in need. The church created a list of items for volunteers to collect, pack and ship to Ukraine as aid. 

“We are not powerful, but we are not powerless either. We can do something to make the situation better,” she added. 

The Ukrainian community at Concordia has also been heavily active for the past year. Ivanov, who is a Ukrainian student at Concordia and a member of Concordia Ukrainian Students’ Union (CUSU), said the year has been a complex time for her to process.

“They say that time heals things. It does not really. All my family that is still in Ukraine keeps struggling. There are days when they have no electricity, and there's no way to reach them,” she explained. 

“I'm grateful for where I am today, I'm in a safe place. But to think back to a year ago, how we would run back from apartments to bomb shelters every day, every few hours, I don't know,” she continued. 

Vitalia Khmil, a fellow member of CUSU, spoke about the anniversary in a somber tone. 

“It was really hard to focus [on school], especially at the beginning of the war, because people we know were dying on the battlefield…it was very stressful,” she expressed. 

Khmil further added that although there were talks between Concordia and Ukrainian students about external support, the aid they received wasn’t enough. 

“Midterms season was tough. We weren't really able to concentrate on schoolwork and got no extensions or help,” she added. 

Both Khmil and Ivanov expressed that they had hoped to get more help from the university. “Concordia was so open to help, but then whenever we would ask for legitimate help, it wasn't provided,” Ivanov said.

According to Vannina Maestracci, Concordia’s spokesperson, the International Students Office has guided international Ukrainian students with renewing documents and references to mental health services when needed. In addition, some received emergency food vouchers, and students’ financial situations were assessed on a case-by-case basis. 

With the anniversary of the start of the Ukrainian war, the conflict in the eastern European nation is still at full speed. On March 3, Reuters reported that Russian military troops were close to surrounding Bakhmut, a city in the eastern part of the country. The win would mean a stepping stone for Russia. 

Ukrainian activists urge people to help and support Ukraine. 

“There are events hosted by Ukrainians all the time,” Khmil said. “For us, it is about the support and finding ways to help,” she added. 

CUSU and Ukrainians across the city encourage Montrealers to donate, volunteer and support the Ukrainian community both in Canada and Ukraine.