Ukrainian Canadians band together as war with Russia continues

Canada is home to the largest Ukrainian population outside of Ukraine and Russia

Hundreds of people gathered in solidarity with the people of Ukraine during a rally organised by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress on the steps of the British Columbia Legislature in Victoria, Canada. The Canadian Press via AP
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Zytynksy’s Deli in Montreal’s Rosemont neighbourhood has been the anchor of the city’s Ukrainian community for a century.

For three generations, the Zytynsky family has handcrafted Ukrainian specialities like pierogies and kielbasa sausages and provided the city with a slice of the Old Country.

Russia’s unprovoked assault on Ukraine has hit Canada’s Ukrainian community hard.

“Tension, full of anxiety and very sad,” said Angel Zytynsky, the current proprietor of the famed deli that bears her family name. “It's been crazy.”

Ms Zytynsky, whose grandfather founded the deli in the 1920s, has been buoyed by a supportive clientele that has made an extra effort to come to the deli.

“All nationalities are coming into the store: French, English, Romanian, Greek, Italian, they're all worried and worried about me and our family and Ukraine,” she told The National by phone, her voice quavering.

Canada is home to nearly 1.4 million people of Ukrainian descent — the largest Ukrainian population outside of Ukraine and Russia.

The community has deep roots in Canada, with the first wave of immigration occurring at the turn of the 20th century, when people were fleeing oppression under the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Many settled in the Canadian prairies, where they worked on farms.

Another large wave came after the Second World War.

Today, Ukrainian communities dot the country and form one of the largest ethnic groups in Canada.

Canada’s Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland is of Ukrainian descent and speaks the language fluently.

Canada was the first Western country to recognise Ukrainian independence in 1991, which is a source of great pride. But many in the community now feel Canada did not do enough to deter Russia from invading and are disappointed Canada has not taken the lead on diplomatic efforts.

“I’ve felt that Canada has been waiting for its allies to lead the charge on this, which is disappointing,” said Yuri Broda, president of the Ukrainian Association of Canada.

Mr Broda, whose family arrived after the Second World War, said he would like to see his government be more “proactive” in its support of Ukraine.

In recent days, like much of Europe and the US, Canada has levied a barrage of sanctions against Russia, calling for the country to be expelled from the Swift international banking system — a major blow to those receiving payments through international transactions. On Sunday, Canada closed its airspace to Russia, a move that mirrors many European nations.

Marc Shwec, chairman of the Stands with Ukraine Committee at the Ukrainian-Canadian Congress in Toronto, said that Canada was taking the necessary steps to help.

He was particularly pleased with Canada's military assistance, he said. The government announced on Sunday that it would be sending a third shipment of lethal aid to Ukraine.

“Canada has been pretty good,” he told The National. “I mean, we're not a superpower, but Canada has been pretty good to help Ukraine.”

Mr Shwec worries that with Russia slowly gaining control of important arteries in the country, it will become harder for western countries to deliver military assistance.

Back at Zytynsky’s Deli, Ms Zytynsky said she has been inundated with requests for Ukrainian flags, a gesture she said has touched her greatly.

“I guess they want to wrap themselves around the flag so they feel comfort,” she said.

Updated: March 01, 2022, 5:10 AM