“Russian fascists get out”: Ukrainian Montrealers crowd in front of consulate

Ukrainians decry Russian invasion, call for support from neighbouring countries

Montreal’s Ukrainian community rallied to demand support for nation under attack. Photo by Eric Pahmer

In the midst of a snowstorm, a crowd of approximately 100 Ukrainians met in front of Montreal's Russian consulate, a few blocks from the Downtown area.

"If you're Ukrainian you have to be here, in spite of the weather. You have to fulfill your family duties," said Iuri Konevych, who's lived in Montreal for eight years.

On Thursday Feb. 23, Russian President Vladimir Putin began an air and ground assault on Ukraine. According to Russian defence minister Igor Konashenkov, 74 military facilities have been destroyed, including airfields, radar stations, and anti-aircraft missile systems. 

However, bombs also rained down on hospitals, residential blocks, and restaurants, in what Amnesty International has referred to as "indiscriminate attacks." The group also noted that the missiles used by the Russian army are "extremely inaccurate [...] and should never be used in populated areas."

Early Friday, as Russian troops made their way into Kyiv, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that at least 137 Ukrainians had lost their lives to the assault.

Olena Kruskevich, a Ukrainian native at the rally, said that "All of my friends and family, all of my country, we didn't think this could happen in the 21st century. It's horror. [...]I'm very sad, and I still don't understand why—for what—this war is happening."

Miryna Onyshchenko, whose family lives in Zaporizhzhia, in Northwestern Ukraine, was just as surprised and saddened. "I didn't think [the Russians] were going to do anything. I was in shock when I saw things actually happening, and I was really scared for my family."

Konevych said that all most people can do is "Pray. Protest. Fight against false information in the media."

As for Onyshchenko, she hopes the protest will help put a human face to the conflict, and will motivate people to help her country.

“All of my friends and family, all of my country, we didn’t think this could happen in the 21st century. It’s horror. [...]I’m very sad, and I still don’t understand why—for what—this war is happening.” — Olena Kruskevich

"If they see us do it, then they'll probably care more." 

She feels that the responses from Western governments have been underwhelming, and that troops, clothes, and money could easily be sent. "It's not hard to send help, but they're just scared for themselves. That's selfish. " she said.

Onyshchenko is a proponent of Russia's removal from the SWIFT banking system, which would, in effect, cut off any international transactions from Russia. A similar sanction was applied to Iran in 2012, causing them to lose half of their oil revenue and close to a third of their foreign trade.

Just Friday, the SAQ also announced it would no longer carry Russian products.

Kruskevich feels that protests might apply the necessary pressure. "I want Putin to hear my people," she said. "We don't want him. These are the sick ambitions of an illegal president. There are a lot of people in Russia who think like us, who also want peace."

She also took aim at Putin's paternalistic claim to Ukraine. 

"We're neighbours, and we must exist together, but we are another country, with another culture, another history, with our own mind. "

One man's sign read "российские корабли идите на ху"—"Russian ships, fuck you," some of the last words uttered by Ukrainian soldiers on a Black Sea border outpost, moments before being blown away by Russian naval strikes. Variations on the slogan were everywhere.

They pelted the consulate with eggs and paint bombs, as well as decorating the gate in slogans, splashed paint, and posters. From a sea of blue and yellow flags, protestors chanted Ukraine’s national salute: "Слава Україні" (Glory to Ukraine).

As speeches were given denouncing the situation, protesters huddled around boiling cups of tea, some retreating to an alcove to escape the wind.

Kruskevich feels that Ukrainians are resilient, and that although Putin expected the invasion to be easy, they will do all they can to prevent it. “We are strong, and will resist. The war will end, and we will win.”

Currently, most of Onyshchenko's family has found refuge in a bomb shelter. As for Kruskevich, her parents are doctors, and have stayed behind to tend to the wounded.

"We're trying to give what small part we can to help the people on the front lines; they're dedicating all that they have. Families, lives, health. Everything," Konevych concluded.

The next protest is scheduled for Sunday at Place du Canada at 2 p.m.