‘I have to stay and do my part’: Former Montrealer aids fight for Ukraine’s freedom

Istan Rozumny has taken refuge in Lviv, a city in western Ukraine close to the Polish border. He has no military training, but he’s putting other skills to good use.

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Zorianna Hrycenko-Luhova has watched in horror over the past two weeks as Russian missiles lay waste to one Ukrainian city after another.

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The Ukrainian Montrealer fears for her country’s future and worries about the well-being of her relatives, including her nephew, Istan Rozumny, who has remained in Ukraine instead of returning home to Canada.

“With every phone call we receive from Istan, we breathe another sigh of relief,” Hrycenko-Luhova said in an interview from her home in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce. “We are worried but are proud and supportive of his decision to stay and help.”

Rozumny, 55, was a director of TV commercials in Montreal between 1999 and 2007. He traveled to Kyiv in 2007 during a three-month break and never returned.

But 15 years after settling in the Ukrainian capital, his life is in turmoil following the Russian invasion of his family’s homeland.

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“I have to stay and do my part. I’m not going to bail now,” Rozumny said in an interview from Lviv, a city in western Ukraine close to the Polish border where he has taken refuge.

He is loath to pick up a rifle because he has no military training, but he’s putting other skills to good use.

This week, Rozumny translated an intercepted phone call from a Russian soldier to his girlfriend. During the call, the soldier talked about looting and Ukrainians being killed in the forest. He also regretted that it will be hard to buy Coca-Cola in Moscow.

Rozumny is arranging for humanitarian aid from Canada and has done several media interviews to raise awareness about the chaos that has ensued since the invasion. A close friend of his, a 33-year-old actor, was killed this week in the city of Irpin.

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“They’re bombing civilians,” he said. “It’s war crimes.”

Rozumny was asleep on Feb. 24 when he received an early-morning phone call from a cousin in Toronto telling him the invasion had begun.

He stuffed some underwear and socks into a bag, grabbed his identification and left his home in Obolon, a neighborhood in northern Kyiv that came under heavy fire from Russian troops early in the conflict.

“I was thinking this might be the last time I’m here,” he recalled.

Rozumny and his friends spent most of the day planning their escape and offering rides to acquaintances who wanted to flee.

He drove two women to a town close to the Romanian border before making his way to the relative safety of Lviv.

Ukrainians are livid over the incessant missile strikes and bombing of their cities, Rozumny said.

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“I don’t know if a word exists to describe how they feel (about Russia),“ he said. “We have to isolate Russia and crush them economically so every Russian will not be able to live under (President Vladimir Putin’s) system. We will get through this. We are not going to live under Russia.”

At her home in NDG, Rozumny’s aunt is glued to her television watching the shelling of Ukrainian cities and the bombing of hospitals.

“It’s a genocide of Ukrainians by Russia,” Hrycenko-Luhova said.

“Ukraine is not just fighting for its own freedom, but for the West’s freedom. Freedom is fragile and precious, and it has to be safeguarded.”

Although Ukrainians are happy NATO countries have imposed sanctions on Russia and are providing arms, she said more needs to be done to fend off the Russian advance.

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“We need a no-fly zone and more plans,” she said. “We can’t be bullied or frightened by Putin’s threat of World War III.”

As a member of the Montreal chapter of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, Hrycenko-Luhova will be on hand to welcome Ukrainian refugees when they make their way to Montreal.

The Ukrainian community has deep roots in Quebec, she said.

In the 1920s, many workers settled in Abitibi, Val-d’Or and Rouyn-Noranda to work in the mines.

One hundred years later, a new generation of immigrants will arrive in Quebec, and they must be made to feel welcome, Hrycenko-Luhova said.

“The Ukrainian community is very grateful to Canada, Quebec and Montreal,” she said. “People are extending their hand and phoning asking to help.”

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