Ukrainians gather for annual Toronto festival in solidarity with a homeland at war

·2 min read
Marc Shwec says this year's Toronto Ukrainian Festival will have 'non-stop' music and dance performances and even feature a fairground for kids. He says it's an opportunity to enjoy Ukrainian culture, but also celebrate the homeland's fight against Russia. (Doug Husby/CBC - image credit)
Marc Shwec says this year's Toronto Ukrainian Festival will have 'non-stop' music and dance performances and even feature a fairground for kids. He says it's an opportunity to enjoy Ukrainian culture, but also celebrate the homeland's fight against Russia. (Doug Husby/CBC - image credit)

The Toronto Ukrainian Festival is taking over Bloor Street West for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

From Friday to Sunday, people can once again celebrate Ukrainian history and culture through a wide array of art installations, dance performances, food stalls and local businesses.

But this year, it's also an opportunity to mark the resilience of the Ukrainian homeland.

The festival kicks off as Ukraine begins recovering bodies from a mass burial site said to contain hundreds who died at the hands of the Russian military, with evidence to suggest that some were tortured.

"We're trying to remember the tragedies, but not focus on them," said Marc Shwec, chair of the Stand With Ukraine Committee with the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, who noted Ukraine has started to regain territory Russian troops initially invaded.

"We want to focus on the opportunity for Ukraine to stand up and declare that it's once and for all independent of Russia."

A news release from the festival says this year's is the biggest edition yet, with 900,000 people expected to visit. Shwec says this year's festival may break all the attendance records so far, with thousands of Ukrainians entering Canada in the past few months alone.

Hanna Pashko is one of them.

She fled to Poland from Ukraine in late March and eventually immigrated to Regina. But she made sure she'd be in Toronto for the festival, and even signed on as a volunteer.

"I want to be near Ukrainian people in Canada, and to talk about war in Ukraine," said Pashko, who said she hopes to help her mother country in any way she can.

"I cried a very long time when I was in Poland, but now I understand that if I keep silent and don't speak about war in Ukraine, people [might not] know about it."

Doug Husby/CBC
Doug Husby/CBC

Highlights of the festival include:

  • A march of solidarity at 11 a.m. on Saturday, featuring Ukraine's allied countries and community groups from High Park to Jane Street along Bloor Street West.

  • A new immersive 360-degree show of more than 10,000 photos and video submissions, Ukraine: Land of the Brave, put together by a Ukrainian team and creative director Taisia Poda.

  • The Artists with Ukraine concert Saturday night, where new immigrants and refugee artists affected by war or conflict "share the stage" with local eastern European artists.

  • A headline performance from Ukrainian singer, songwriter and YouTuber, Yana Oleksandrivna Shemaeva, known professionally as Jerry Heil.

The City of Toronto has closed Bloor Street West between Jane Street and 2181 Bloor St. W. will be closed to vehicle traffic from 9:30 a.m. on Friday to 11:59 p.m. on Sunday for the festival.