Launch of the cruise season | The captain of the Volendam remembers the Ukrainians he hosted on his ship

(Montreal) The Montreal Port Authority (MPA) officially launched the cruise season on Saturday at the Grand Quai of the Port of Montreal. For the occasion, the Volendam was the first cruise ship of the 2024 season to arrive in the metropolis.

Rakesh Prasad, captain of the Holland America cruise ship, remembers the traumatized faces of hundreds of Ukrainians who boarded the ship in April 2022 at the port of Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

Having fled the Russian invasion of their country a few months earlier, the 1,500 refugees took on the ship only what they could carry, often in plastic bags. The ship served as their home for six months, docked at the port.


The captain of the Volendam, Rakesh Prasad

“You looked at the children, you could feel how scared they were, there was no happiness,” said Mr. Prasad, standing at the edge of the indoor swimming pool of the Volendam, docked at the port of Montreal.

To celebrate the ship’s arrival, the PAM held a ceremony on board the ship, with guests including diplomats from Ukraine and the Netherlands.

A few meters from the pool, towards the entrance to the dining room, Volendam staff members have hung a large frame made up of drawings of refugee children who lived on the ship in 2022. The drawings now represent a permanent exhibition on the ship.

Gazing into the Volendam’s wood-paneled interior, Eugene Czolij, Ukraine’s honorary consul in Montreal, pointed to the photo frame and said the refugees were “clearly welcomed in a very friendly way.” He thanked the Dutch authorities for their help.

Now full of holidaymakers, Volendam had transformed into a Ukrainian village for six months in 2022. Mr Prasad said the refugees had become accustomed to their environment.

Families offered free haircuts, old ladies looked after the children. It became a community, and when it came time to leave, the majority wanted to stay.

Rakesh Prasad, captain of Volendam

Volendam Captain Rens Van Eerten said the Netherlands had a long history of helping refugees flee war, including during World War II, when the country helped people escape the Nazis. Shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine, he said, the Dutch government contacted the Volendam’s owner, Holland America, to ask about leasing a ship.

“We had one available,” he said. We welcomed (the refugees), took care of them and made sure that they could have a relatively normal life at that time. »

Slowdown in aid to Ukraine

While the Netherlands rushed to provide assistance in April 2022, we feel a “Ukrainian fatigue” which has taken hold of certain Western countries, lamented Michael Polak, honorary consul of the Netherlands in Montreal.

At the start of the war, Polak said, “everyone was determined to help Ukraine fight Russian aggression.” But over the past six to 12 months, he added, “some allies have become a little reluctant, doubting their commitments and not wanting to spend money.”

“But the fact is that this war continues and it is far from being resolved. »

On April 24, US President Joe Biden immediately approved the sending of a billion in military assistance to Ukraine, the first tranche of some 61 billion allocated to this country. The package includes air defense capabilities, artillery shells, armored vehicles and other weapons to support Ukrainian forces whose morale has plummeted as Russian President Vladimir Putin has racked up victory after victory.

The announcement marked the end of a long and painful battle with Republicans in Congress over urgent aid to Ukraine.

Mr. Czolij said the American aid had been very helpful, adding that he believed it would help Ukraine win the war. He said the only people who are “fatigued” with Ukraine are those who don’t understand that the country is not only defending its territorial integrity, but “defending Europe as a whole.”

“If Ukraine, God forbid, loses this war,” he said, “we will see a third world war.” »


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