Comox Mayor Russ Arnott connects with a citizen shortly after he raises the Ukrainian flag Feb. 28 in front of town hall to show solidarity with the country. Photo by Erin Haluschak

Comox Mayor Russ Arnott connects with a citizen shortly after he raises the Ukrainian flag Feb. 28 in front of town hall to show solidarity with the country. Photo by Erin Haluschak

Comox Valley Ukrainian community planning rally

Community at large invited to attend ‘Comox Valley Stands With Ukraine’ event March 5

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has hit Comox Valley resident Sviatoslav Pylypchuk harder than most; he grew up in Ukraine, studied in Kyiv, and only moved to Canada nine years ago.

He and his wife Olena both have family and friends throughout the country, including the capital.

“I’m OK, as much as possible,” he said, Monday morning. “We are in constant contact (with family and friends). So far, everyone is OK. It’s a constant running down to the basement and bomb shelters, but everyone is safe for now.”

Pylypchuk says the pain of being more than 8,500 kilometres away from loved ones at this time, as they struggle to survive, is nearly unbearable.

“It’s very hard, to be honest – I want to be with them so much,” he said. “I can’t even explain with words how much I want to be with them, and for them to be safe. I have many friends – I actually lived in Kyiv for many years, and to know that they are constantly sending missiles on Kyiv, this is just inconceivable. Many of my friends are on the frontlines.”

Pylypchuk said although the Ukrainian community is relatively small in the Comox Valley, the support among each other, and with the Valley community at large, has been great.

“There is lots of support here, regardless of nationalities – Canadians are so amazing that way. I have lots of friends who are not Ukrainian at all but they feel our pain and support us, and want to do whatever is needed to do to help.”

Pylypchuk and his friend, Stefan Szkwarek, are organizing the ‘Comox Valley Stands With Ukraine’ rally for this weekend. The event, scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday, March 5 at the Comox Marina, will have guest speakers, singing, sharing of concerns and an opportunity for all of the Comox Valley to show its support for those in Ukraine, and for everyone else who has been affected, or will be affected, by the ongoing conflict.

“I want to show support as much as possible – I need to do something to help my countrymen and my family and friends in this fight because we are all in this together,” said Pylypchuk. “I want to also show support for every non-Ukrainian who is affected by this, because we are all going to be affected and feel it, even by price changes for products and gas and things like that. We are all going to feel it.”

Pylypchuk is planning to record the event and send it to his family and friends in Ukraine for psychological support.

“I have heard so much from them about how they know the whole world is supporting them. They feel so supported and happy that they have friends outside Ukraine. So it will be very motivating for them to see that.”

Szkwarek, whose parents and grandparents came to Canada after the Second World War, is hoping that the rally draws the interest of the Comox Valley community at large, regardless of ethnic roots.

“I believe most of them (local Ukrainians) are multiple generations removed from immigration, but a lot of people have Ukrainian roots… we are hoping with the rally that it is more than Ukrainian people coming – everyone is welcome,” said Szkwarek. “It’s a moment of solidarity – not just among Ukrainians, but among anybody who wants democracy and freedom because that’s what this is all about.”

“The world is seeing what Ukrainians are all about. It’s unfortunate that it is happening under these circumstances, but the bravery and resilience are amazing to watch – it’s inspiring to everyone.”

That bravery and resilience comes from the top down. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy has become an international symbol of leadership with his frontline response to the conflict. Videos have surfaced of Zelenskyy in armour, walking alongside his armed countrymen in the streets of the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.

“To be honest, a lot of Ukrainian people did not see this coming,” said Szkwarek. “He’s a good person so that part is not surprising… but the level of bravery by him, and the messages and images that he is creating through his own persona, is amazing. And as well, the Klitschko brothers. These are multi-millionaires who are there, and that is rallying Ukrainians to go and fight. The leadership on display is amazing.”

Former heavyweight boxing multiple champion and Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko, and his brother Wladimir, also a multiple world champion heavyweight boxer, have both taken up arms and joined in the battle.

“We’ve always been extremely proud of our country… but (the actions) of our leaders right now (are) unbelievable – it’s carrying us through,” said Szkwarek. “There’s a long way to go here, and obviously we are dealing with a blood-thirsty tyrant, but we are optimistic. They are just doing an incredible job.”

Comox Mayor Russ Arnott was joined by council members and staff as the Ukrainian flag was raised at town hall on Monday afternoon. Arnott expressed his support for the March 5 event, and for Ukraine.

“All of us at the Town of Comox denounce this war against the Ukrainian people,” he said. “We pray for peace and to show our solidarity we will be flying the flag of Ukraine at our town hall. I will be attending the Comox Valley Stands with Ukraine rally on March 5 at Marina Park where I hope we can comfort our Ukrainian friends and neighbours in their time of need.”

Courtenay Mayor Bob Wells echoes Arnott’s sentiments.

“I am completely repulsed by the aggression being displayed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” he said in a statement to Black Press. “Using false pretences to try and justify attacking a sovereign nation is unacceptable and I want the citizens of Ukraine to know that we stand in solidarity with them. My grandparents immigrated from Ukraine to find a better life and chose Canada. I am heartened to see the Russian people protesting against Vladimir Putin’s war and hope he stops immediately.”

ALSO: Canadians can help Ukraine with money, media savvy
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Hundreds of people attended a rally for support of Ukraine at the B.C. Legislature on Feb. 27, 2022. (Kiernan Green/News Staff)

Hundreds of people attended a rally for support of Ukraine at the B.C. Legislature on Feb. 27, 2022. (Kiernan Green/News Staff)

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