They came in droves and braved the cold weather just to show solidarity with Ukraine. They shouted “Putin, go to hell.” They pleaded with Canada to ban Russian propaganda. And they expressed pride and support of brave Ukrainians.
Hundreds, possibly thousands of people descended on downtown Toronto streets Sunday afternoon in a peaceful demonstration to denounce the ongoing Russian attack on the eastern European country.
The mega march was organized by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress Toronto branch in an effort to publicly express support for Ukraine. Similar demonstrations have been taking place in various communities in Canada and across the world — including inside Russia.
Starting at Yonge-Dundas Square and snaking for several blocks all the way to Nathan Phillips Square, the rally brought together many demonstrators who were wrapped in Ukrainian flags while others waved the yellow and blue flags. Some Canadian flags could also be seen. At the rhythm of loud drums, chants of “stand with Ukraine,” “walk with Ukraine” and “sanction Putin” broke out in the crowd.
Toronto mayor John Tory attended the demonstration, and said Sunday’s rally won’t be the last as the city joins the rest of the world in saying “no to this kind of oppression.”
“The people of Toronto stand with Ukraine. This is a big atrocity and it’s time to stand up and say no,” said Tory.
Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been leaving Ukraine and seeking refuge in neighbouring countries since Russian troops started dropping mortars and shelling cities across the country earlier this week.
Ukraine officials say more than 200 people have been killed so far in the conflict, and many others injured.
Peter Schturyn, president of Ukrainian Canadian Congress Toronto, said the entire world must unite in the fight against Russian aggression.
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“Ukrainians have been saying from the very beginning, this is not a Ukrainian issue, this is the world issue,” he said, noting that “Putin and his henchmen” are “a threat to the civilized world.”
Canada is home to nearly 1.5 million people of Ukrainian origin.
Tensions continue to rise between Russia and NATO countries since the attack was launched. Canada is among the countries that have now closed off its air space for Russian planes. The country has also been cut off from the SWIFT program.
News emerged Sunday that, apparently in response to these sanctions, Putin had ordered his nuclear forces to be “on high alert,” a move that increases the fear that the crisis could become much larger.
As the large rally congregated in Nathan Phillips Square, around a handful of people skating on city’s ice, deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland attracted the loudest cheers as she addressed people in Ukrainian. She said the West is united and “relentless” in its action against Putin, and that Canada will continue to support President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his country.
“The Ukrainians are making such a brave stand. We should let people of Ukraine know how much we admire them,” she said. “I bow my head to their courage, to their resilience.”
Addressing the crowd, Manitoba Conservative MP James Bezan urged Canada and the world to take concrete action against Russia. He said it’s time for Canada to expel the Russian ambassador, and for the United Nations to do the same. He called for CRTC to ban television station Russia Today, qualifying it as a propaganda machine for Putin and his government. And he urged Canada to lead humanitarian efforts by hosting refugees of this crisis.
“Make it visa-free” for people to travel from Ukraine to Canada, he said.
Gilbert Ngabo is a Toronto-based crime reporter for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @dugilbo
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