Candlelight vigil marks a year of resistance

Nearly a year ago to the day, over 100 people stood in front of Saint John City Hall, “heartbroken” as they watched friends and family face Russia’s invasion of Ukraine from thousands of kilometres away.

On Friday, they gathered again to commemorate the sombre anniversary, draped in Ukrainian flags and carrying signs saying “Thank You Canada” and "A Year of Resistance."

It’s something Svitlana Goncharova finds hard to talk about without tears.

It’s been “the worst year,” she said, but also the best.

“It showed the world that Ukraine exists, and Ukraine fights,” she said.

Serhii Ovcharenko has been living in St. George since last June, and says he carries “big pain” in his heart.

His brother is back in Ukraine, fighting for the military.

“He tells me every day we will win,” he said, draped in a flag that combines the flag designs of both Canada and Ukraine.

Goncharova, vice president of the Ukrainian Association of Saint John, moved to the Port City in 2017. Her family left Ukraine due to concerns of a full-scale Russian invasion, and she’s thankful her children didn’t have to see their home country at war.

But “all of us have relatives in Ukraine,” she said. “We’re scared to lose them of course, but we’re so grateful that we can be here in Canada.”

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has recorded 18,657 civilian casualties over the past year.

The war has displaced an estimated 14 million people from the region, according to Global Affairs Canada.

Canada has welcomed thousands of Ukrainians, with over 1,800 settling in New Brunswick since March 29, 2022, according to the province.

“We continue to work with the federal government, employers and local service providers to ensure these newcomers receive the assistance they need as they settle into their new home,” Premier Blaine Higgs said in a press statement.

“As the people of Ukraine mark 365 days of resilience, Marcia and I join all New Brunswickers in standing with Ukraine and praying for peace.”

Anna Kuksenko, also a member of the Ukrainian Association of Saint John, says people have opened their homes and hearts to Ukrainians.

Host families have driven as far as Montreal to pick up Ukrainian families, Kuksenko says, and have purchased everything from plane tickets to furniture to help them get off on the right foot in the Port City.

Networking, she said, is one “unique” part of life in Canada, and in a small city like Saint John, "it’s a big help when they’re helping them find jobs, introduce people, show what it’s like to live in Saint John.”

The Ukrainian Association of Saint John has hosted webinars to help people decide if Saint John is the right place for them.

The group has also been working to raise money to send back to Ukraine, as well as to support families in Saint John.

“More than 15 families came here without a father, only mom and kids,” Goncharova says. “They struggle here. It’s an incredible weight on the women, so we try to help and support them.”

The organization has also been educating Canadians about Ukraine, she said.

“They ask us, ‘How can we support Ukrainians? What can we do for them? What should we buy?’”

Canada has been one of the top aid donors to Ukraine over the past year, with Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly recently pledging $21 million for projects to support “Ukraine’s security, accountability, and stabilization efforts.”

On Friday, the feds announced another $32 million to support similar projects, along with specialized equipment to mitigate potential chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear incidents.

With files from Postmedia and The Washington Post

Marlo Glass, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal