The red hammer and sickle flag of the former Soviet Union has been flying mostly unnoticed from the mast of a boat moored at Heather Civic Marina in Vancouver for years.

But now that Russia is invading Ukraine and using the old soviet-era flag as a symbol of power and domination, even flying it from tanks, the Vancouver Park Board, which manages the city-owned marina, is facing new calls to have the flag removed.

“I think a lot of people are very, very offended by this,” said board chair Stuart Mackinnon.

After several complaints, Mackinnon said a park board staffer went to the marina this week and asked the boat’s owner if he would voluntarily remove the flag. The man refused to take it down.

“It’s sad that someone would choose to offend others within the community in this way,” the board chair said.

Florian Gassner, an associate professor of Central and Eastern European Studies at UBC, believes the boat’s owner is ignorant or indifferent to the suffering that is associated with the flag.

“Throughout the entire 20th century, the Ukrainians have been victim of the power that had assumed this flag,” said Gassner.

“The flag is upsetting not just for Ukrainians who have family members there right now, but any Ukrainian alive today who has a parent, or a grandparent, or a great-grandparent who suffered the atrocities of soviet rule.”

While the flag may be offensive, especially to the local Ukrainian community, the park board can’t force the boat’s owner to remove it, as it would be protected under freedom of expression.

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“Unfortunately this person is indeed at liberty to fly that flag,” said Gassner. “But fortunately, we are also at liberty to vehemently criticize that, and hopefully make people, maybe not that person but other people, re-consider flying similar symbols.”

To counter that symbol, other residents of the marina have now begun flying Ukrainian flags from their boats. The single Soviet flag is now surrounded by Ukrainian ones.

“Good on them! Again, that is their fundamental right of expression,” said Mackinnon. “And to see those flags, it’s very heartwarming.”

Iryna Shyroka, the Vancouver president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, is also heartened to see boaters start this silent protest against the resident flying the Soviet flag.

“We don’t need to force, we don’t need to apply power,” she said. “The people will just do it by themselves. We will outnumber him, with our blue and yellow flags.”


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