Ukrainian Independence Day somber while war rages on

·3 min read

Grande Prairie city hall raised the Ukrainian flag on Wednesday, Aug. 24, coinciding with the 31st Ukrainian Independence Day.

The flag-raising was then followed by a march in support of Ukraine and its ongoing war against Russia.

Over 150 people attended the event with signs supporting Ukraine; many wearing blue and yellow.

“I stand here today because I have to represent the courage of my country,” said Alina Ovsiy, who moved to Canada in 2011.

“We are an independent country, and we have never started a war in order to conquer other territories, unlike Russia at the moment right now.”

Ovsiy spoke at the Friday event, saying 9,200 civilians have lost their lives to the war; she noted that is only the known number in areas under Ukraine's control and that the total is currently estimated at 20,000 lost lives.

“We want to remember that we have to help each other because this is a situation that no one would have predicted.

“I can't believe that I stand here today in this century and we’re still at war.”

Jackie Clayton, Grande Prairie mayor who is of Ukrainian heritage, spoke of her memories of Ukrainian independence.

“Today, we can commemorate Ukraine's declaration of independence from the USSR in 1991, and as a child, I remember how special that day was to my granddad,” she said.

“We stand in solidarity with Ukraine people at home and abroad defending their homeland against Russian aggression.”

She said Grande Prairie is fortunate to have a strong Ukrainian community, which enriches the community.

“Normally, it would be a celebration; this year is more of a commemoration, I think, a recognization of what's happening in Ukraine,” said Kelly George, a co-organizer of We Stand with Ukraine Grande Prairie.

She said many city residents are waiting for phone calls from the Ukraine daily and are left wondering if their loved ones are alive.

“There's a family here, a lady with two young boys; her husband's still home fighting.

“She goes 12 or 14 hours without hearing from him, and it's horrible,” said George.

Ovsiy said many refugees had made their way to Grande Prairie to escape the war, including her grandmother, who only escaped two days before the border closed.

She has donated her time teaching English to some of those refugees coming to Grande Prairie.

Mental strain persist on those here with their families.

Ovsiy said she struggles with thoughts like “why do I deserve to live in peace while the rest of my country is on fire?” and “why am I the lucky one?”

For now, she will work to continue supporting her home county from afar.

“I think I will make a lot bigger impact staying here.

“Even my community of teachers have donated so much money to people within my hometown,” said Ovsiy.

Donations have gone to her hometown to build things such as bulletproof vests for people in her hometown.

“We can support people who are still there who are still fighting for their freedom a lot better by staying here, but at the same time, some of us feel like we're not doing enough.”

Ovsiy described Friday night's support from the community as heartwarming.

George is hopeful that the 32nd year of Ukrainian Independence will be a more joyous one.

Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News