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Surrey officer says racist shaming at protest only highlighted beauty of Ukrainian heritage

Sgt. Elenore Sturko says she was ‘called out’ during a recent protest near the Pacific Highway border
Surrey RCMP Sgt. Elenore Sturko speaks at a joing Surrey RCMP and Surrey Police Service press conference in November, 2021). (Lauren Collins photo)

Elenore Sturko knew from the tone of the man’s voice that his statement regarding her heritage wasn’t one of admiration.

“Sturko – that’s a Ukrainian name,” he said.

On duty near the Pacific Highway border at the time, in her role as a sergeant with the Surrey RCMP, Sturko automatically deferred to de-escalation tactics, telling the man she was born in Canada, rather than letting him bait her into a confrontation.

“I knew they were trying to cause trouble with me,” Sturko said Monday, as she explained a tweet she made the night before (Feb. 27) regarding a protester who “started trying to shame me for my heritage.”

The protester went on to call her a Nazi, and ask her “what kind of Ukrainian are you – a good one or a bad one?” before disappearing to fetch a giant poster depicting a firing-squad image from the Holocaust. The man then stood some 20 feet away and yelled at her for an hour in Polish, “calling me out basically about my Ukrainian heritage.”

“As much as we… want to be professional, sometimes, stuff like that, it does plant a seed of sadness within you,” Sturko said.

“I was upset by that.”

The incident happened on Feb. 19, as the ongoing crisis between Russia and Ukraine was increasing in intensity.

READ MORE: Flights to Ukraine halted or redirected as crisis brews

As upsetting as it was, Sturko, who is a South Surrey resident, said it didn’t have the effect that the protester was clearly aiming for, that of diminishing her pride in her roots, and shaming her. In fact, it did quite the opposite.

“To see how much love and respect there is for people who belong to my ethnic heritage is just incredibly important,” Sturko said, referring to the outpouring of support that continues for Ukraine and its people during the ongoing invasion.

“One out of hundreds of thousands of people said something that was very insulting, but there’s millions and millions of people right now showing their love and support and admiration for those in the Ukraine dealing with this terrible situation.

“I was at the protest, it was ugly, but there’s so much more beauty in what we’re seeing being demonstrated.

“It’s an opportunity for us all to reflect on things that unite us.”

Sturko is a second-generation Canadian. Her grandparents came to Canada from Ukraine more than a century ago – in 1908 and 1918 – to escape “terrible” conditions, including oppression and starvation.

While her grandparents quickly assimilated into Western culture – and didn’t speak much about the painful side of their history in the years that followed – her family did hold onto various traditions over the years, at Christmas and other occasions. Making Ukrainian Easter eggs and perogies are among the activities Sturko does with her own kids.

She said while she doesn’t know any family in Ukraine now, seeing the conflict and the war “in an odd way… has reconnected me with my cultural heritage.”

“Even seeing the resolve now of Ukrainian people fighting and battling for their country, it inspires me, I want to know more.

“Knowing this is the home of my grandparents, it has a special significance for me, but I don’t think you need to have Ukrainian heritage… to see the human side of war.”
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Tracy Holmes

About the Author: Tracy Holmes

Tracy Holmes has been a reporter with Peace Arch News since 1997.
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