Kingston will 'Stand With Ukraine' to mark solemn anniversary

It has been two years since Russian forces launched a full-scale armed attack on the people of Ukraine, causing immense suffering and destruction.

On Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024, people across the world will join in a global day of action to "Stand With Ukraine." Kingston will host a peaceful rally showing solidarity and support for Ukraine at Confederation Basin, across the street from Kingston City Hall, at 2 p.m.

Two of the event's organizers spoke to Kingstonist about the importance of the rally.

Maryna Stoliar, who came to Kingston at the beginning of the war with her preschool-aged child and is now in PhD studies at Queen’s University, said that the rally, organized nationally by the Ukrainian-Canadian Congress and taking place all over Canada, is an opportunity for Ukrainians to demonstrate that they are still united and to remind everyone that the war is still going on.

She understands that there might be a sort of “news fatigue” for Canadians and others when it comes to the war: “If you're not really involved in that situation and global politics, you cannot constantly watch the news, especially such a horror, right?” she said.

But she hopes people will take the opportunity to participate and show the Ukrainian people the world is still united behind them.

“Ukraine is the largest country in Europe, and they are being constantly bombed," said Stoliar. "They are invaded fully by another independent country. [Russia is basically] declaring there is no Ukrainian nation in the world, that there is no Ukrainian language, that we're not actually a country --- that we're just an appendix to another country. And Saturday is going to be a stand against that."

Stoliar went on to say, "Ukrainians are fighting against Vladimir Putin's regime and basically protecting Europe itself," explaining that rumours are spreading from other countries that Putin has declared the need “to protect Russian-speaking people in European countries like Finland or Estonia.

"And we Ukrainians know what that protection means, because when they declared this special military operation in Ukraine back in 2014, one of the reasons was to protect Russian-speaking people in Ukraine,” she asserted.

Stoliar emphasized that Ukrainians do not need the kind of “protection” Putin has been giving them.

Another one of the Stand With Ukraine organizers, Michael Myshchyshyn, said that, in his capacity as a case worker with KEYS Refugee Resettlement Services, he has helped over 300 Ukrainians resettle in Kingston during the war.

Myshchyshyn acknowledged it has been a challenge for them, especially if they don’t have English skills, but noted that the Kingston welcome has been incredibly positive.

“Kingston has been very supportive as a city," he said. "[For instance,] the real estate agencies were providing up to four months of free rent to Ukrainian refugees here. Businesses have been offering job placements. People --- just random people --- were hosting Ukrainians for half a year [or] a year, which is a great support to the Ukrainian people here. So from the mayor of Kingston on down to the regular person who is paying taxes to help people that are in need right now, we just say thank you.”

Myshchyshyn noted that some of those who came to Canada have since returned to Ukraine in fear for their property and family members, and because resettlement is such a challenge. Millions across the European nation have lost their homes, been forced to flee, or endured other hardships due to lack of access to basic necessities and services as a result of the war.

The hostilities have damaged and destroyed hundreds of medical and educational institutions, with significant impact on access to education and health services. There has also been damage to critical infrastructure related to energy and grain export,which has caused hardship, particularly during the winter months, and threatened livelihoods. Entire cities have been destroyed.

In terms of human casualties, in its latest report the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine has verified that conflict-related violence in these past two years has killed more than 10,000 civilians and injured nearly 20,000. The actual numbers are likely significantly higher.

The rally, Myshchyshyn said, is just one small way people can show solidarity with victims and “remind the world that the war is going on. [We need] to be united on that day because, literally, there is no family in Ukraine where someone isn't involved, or injured, or fighting.”

“And there is always some pain and grief because many people have died," Myshchyshyn added. "Many people have left their homes, and of course, those who are abroad love their homes and experience the trauma of being forced to leave their homes. So being together is very important for us as a Ukrainian community here in Kingston.”

The message he would like the world to receive from the day of action is “of course, to support Ukraine, but also just be united for democracy, and for tolerance, and for peace all over the world. And be just there so Putin understands that the world is united still... And that the world will be united till the end of this war, and that he will not win.”

Stoliar emphasized that the rally is not just for Ukrainians, but for all people who wish to show solidarity. She expressed pride that Member of Parliament (MP) Mark Gerretsen will attend Saturday's events to represent the federal government, and that Kingston's Deputy Mayor Wendy Stevens will be on hand to make remarks.

“As I mentioned earlier," Stoliar said, "Kingston has been really supportive to Ukrainians, so... it would be great for us to have people of all nations, all ages, all genders attending the event. We also have some Canadians speaking at the event who have helped Ukrainian families to settle. It's just kind of a nice moment for us to gather together, as well."

The rally in solidarity and support for Ukraine takes place at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024 in Confederation Basin. For more information, visit the 'Stand With Ukraine Rally' Facebook page.

Michelle Dorey Forestell, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,