Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s personal and powerful addresses to Canadian Parliament and US Congress over the last two days are hitting close to home for Saskatoon’s Ukrainian community.
On Tuesday, Zelenskyy reiterated calls for Canada to implement a no-fly zone over his country.
“Close the airspace. Please stop the bombing. How many missiles have to fall on our cities until you make this happen?” he said to parliamentarians.
Ukrainians in Saskatoon are echoing those calls.
Vitalii Kushnir immigrated to Saskatoon from Ukraine in 2007, leaving behind friends and family who are still there today.
“My friends in Mariupol, I have a lot of friends, they send me pictures and it’s just crying on my heart to see all this stuff,” he told CTV News.
“It’s firing me from the inside to see what Russians do in my country. Their goal just to destroy our nation, wipe out from the Earth.”
Kushnir said Ukraine’s ongoing conflict with Russia is why he decided to leave 15 years ago.
“That tension between Russia and Ukraine we have 300 years. I came (to Canada) just to live quiet life because I’m tried in Ukraine live under Russian influence.”
Kushnir owns and runs Smak Ukrainian Store in Saskatoon and Yorkton.
He and his staff are collecting donations of humanitarian aid like dry food and medicine, and sending a portion to Ukraine each day. They are also accepting financial donations.
Kushnir said his biggest concern is that people in Ukraine are starving to death — something he feels a no-fly zone can help with.
“To stop starvation in Mariupol, we need to close the sky. This is a main point what we need to do right now because they bombing without non-stop.”
Pat Tymchatyn, vice president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) Saskatoon branch, also agrees with Zelenskyy’s calls for more action from western counties.
“Without closing the skies, it’s not an army against an army. It’s an army against civilians who have no means of protecting themselves and protecting their children or protecting their elderly,” she said.
“Each one of us is responsible to do something to help Ukraine and if we aren’t helping Ukraine, then we are actually helping Putin because our silence means that we agree with what Putin is doing to Ukraine.”
However, Colleen Bell, an associate professor of international politics at the University of Saskatchewan, said it isn’t as easy as that.
Bell said if NATO were to create a full or limited no-fly zone over Ukraine, it would make NATO and NATO countries combatants in war.
She said up until now, NATO countries have been toeing the line of providing supplies to Ukraine and replenishing existing capabilities that Ukraine has without adding new ones.
“The declaration of a no-fly zone is an entirely new capability. It would happen in what is already defined as a battle-space and therefore, it would essentially be tantamount to NATO going to war with Russia, so it is probably tantamount to World War Three.”
For now, Kushnir is continuing to call on Canadians to do what they can from here by donating and creating awareness.
He said 10 per cent of any purchases made at Smak Ukrainian Store will go towards supporting Ukraine.
“Our task to protect our homeland, protect people in any way which we can,” he said.
UCC in Saskatoon is collecting donations to provide people who are guarding their villages and towns from saboteurs with better protective gear.
Nationally, UCC has a humanitarian fund to which people can contribute.
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