Ukrainians new to Manitoba celebrate first Thanksgiving amid more Russian attacks

Ukrainian newcomers were set to partake in their first Thanksgiving holiday gatherings Monday, but thoughts of warfare escalation in their homeland were also on their mind.

Russian missiles struck several Ukrainian cities Monday, including the capital city of Kyiv, resulting in more additions to the number of people killed and injured since Russia invaded its eastern European neighbour on Feb. 24.

The deadly attacks followed aerial strikes in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, on Sunday, which resulted in at least a dozen deaths. 

Svitlana Poliezhaieva’s mother lives in Kyiv, and her grandfather, as well as aunts, uncles, cousins and friends live throughout Ukraine. Poliezhaieva said that she constantly lives with pain and stress.

“My biggest worry for Ukraine is that people are dying. Children are dying. And this is my biggest pain,” she said.

Poliezhaieva and her two daughters fled Ukraine on March 1 and temporarily settled in Germany for five months. She called the last several months “a nightmare” for her and her family. 

“You kind of feel this pain and it’s hard to do something with it, to influence the situation,” Poliezhaieva said.

A rally opposing Russia’s latest round of attacks on Ukraine was held at The Forks in Winnipeg on Monday afternoon. (Travis Golby/CBC)

A rally at The Forks was organized Monday, and approximately 200 people turned up to speak out on Russia’s latest attacks on Ukraine.

“Everything that Russia does is terrorism. They are terrorizing peaceful populations. They’re not adhering to any laws or regulations, practices, war practices,” said rally organizer Halyna Stoyko. “They are simply targeting civilians, civilian infrastructure.”

After by another round of attacks, Winnipeg’s Ukrainian community simply wants people to have more protection from Russian artillery.

Cars are seen on fire after Russian missile strikes as Russia’s attack continues in Kyiv on Sunday. (Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters)

“We’re frustrated that we don’t have air defence to protect the civilian population of Ukraine. And it resonates very much with every single person that you’ll find here and many thousands others that haven’t heard about the event or haven’t been able to come,” Stoyko said.

“It’s Thanksgiving weekend, but we’re not sitting down.”

That includes 16-year-old Oleh Blazhko, who came to Winnipeg from Ukraine two months ago, where he now lives with his aunt’s family.

Blazhko spoke with his family in western Ukraine following the attacks, and while he’s glad they are safe, his biggest worry is increased artillery fury from Russian armed forces.

Oleh Blazhko, 16, is pleading with the world to do more to help stop the Russian attacks on civilians in his home country of Ukraine. (Travis Golby/CBC)

“I felt like the world is just watching and doing nothing. So I would like the world to wake up and just watch the news and do something, please,” Blazhko said. “We have to defend our children, we have to defend our civilians.”

‘Thankful for being alive’

Poliezhaieva has been living in Winnipeg’s Transcona neighbourhood for two months, and she is beyond grateful for all of the support her family has received from the community. While she feels helpless at times, but building a better future for her family is what has been motivating her since she was driven out of Ukraine.

The residence she shares with her husband, mother-in-law and two girls was almost completely furnished through donations from the landlord and other people in the area.

“I’m thankful to our Canadian friends, family, new friends who are supporting us,” Poliezhaieva said, adding that life in Winnipeg has been filled with new experiences like how to use credit cards and understand the real estate market.

More importantly, Poliezhaieva is thankful to be able to provide safety to her family at a time when families in Ukraine aren’t as fortunate.

Svitlana Poliezhaieva and her family celebrated their first Thanksgiving Day dinner with new friends in Winnipeg on Monday. (Travis Golby/CBC)

The five of them planned a Thanksgiving dinner with five other Ukrainian-Canadians complete with turkey, potatoes, salads and pie.

“We are respecting the customs and traditions of Canada because this is a country that we are living in,” she said.

Thanksgiving in southern Manitoba

Approximately 70 Ukrainian-Canadians gathered for a Thanksgiving dinner Sunday in Morden, Man.

Father Mykhaylo Khomitskyy, a priest at All the Saints of Ukraine Catholic Mission in Morden as well as the parish priest at St. Basil’s Ukrainian Catholic Church in Winnipeg, attended the dinner and liturgy. He said it was a wonderful opportunity to meet Ukrainians new to Canada, share stories and see how the church community can help them going forward.

“They were blessed with warmth and hospitality and especially with this special day in Ukraine we start to celebrate right now, so it’s quite new for them,” Khomitskyy told CBC News Monday. “They were quite amazed.”

Father Mykhaylo Khomitskyy , parish priest at St. Basils Ukrainian Catholic Church and priest at All Saints Ukrainian Land Parish Mission in Morden, Man., attended a Thanksgiving dinner and liturgy in Morden on Sunday. (Thomas Asselin/Radio-Canada)

During liturgy, he said prayers were made for peace in Ukraine and the victims from all of Russia’s aggression since last winter.

And while there is meaning to host a Thanksgiving service in the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Khomitskyy stressed the importance of not only celebrating Thanksgiving but living with gratitude on a daily basis.