‘Stand with Ukraine’: Rally at Vancouver Art Gallery draws large crowd

A large crowd gathered at the Vancouver Art Gallery Saturday afternoon to condemn Russia's invasion of Ukraine and showed support for the Ukrainian people(CTV)

A large crowd gathered at the Vancouver Art Gallery Saturday afternoon to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and show support for the Ukrainian people.

Hundreds joined the rally, many carrying Ukrainian flags and signs demanding Russian President Vladimir Putin stop the invasion, or that Canada and its NATO allies do more to help Ukraine fight back.

The crowd sang the Ukrainian national anthem and chanted “stand with Ukraine.” Participants also shed tears for friends and relatives in the besieged country.

“There is not much I can do, except come here,” said Anna Okorokov, a Ukrainian citizen who now resides in Vancouver. She fled her home country with her parents when she was eight years old, after the Soviet Union collapsed.

Members of her extended family have been hearing bombings since 5 a.m. Thursday, she said.

“One family is hiding in the basement of their building, with all of their kids. The others are in their apartment because they can’t leave. The elevators have been turned off. My grandmother who is elderly can’t take the stairs,” said Okorokov.

Pavlo Ponikarovskyi was one of the organizers of Saturday’s event. The Ukrainian-born B.C. resident said he was happy with the turnout, but wants people to provide material support for Ukraine’s cause as well.

“Hopefully every single person here tells their friends to donate money, because all we can do from outside is just support everybody that is suffering from war,” Ponikarovskyi said, adding that the war has completely disrupted life on the ground in Ukraine.

“We are not producing any goods. We’re not providing any services. The economy is at a standstill, so, you know, every little dollar matters,” he said.

The Red Cross is perhaps one of the more recognizable organizations to which people can donate. Ponikarovskyi also noted a Ukrainian organization called Save Life.

“They have been a non-profit with Ukraine since 2014, since the war began. They have been very reliable,” Ponikarovskyi said.

Saturday was the second time in just a few days that anti-war protesters have gathered in downtown Vancouver.

On Thursday, a larger-than-expected crowd turned out for an impromptu demonstration against Russia’s invasion.

As Putin’s forces continue their attempts to seize the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, B.C. residents with ties to the country have shared stories of friends and relatives fleeing the violence.

The B.C. government announced Friday that it would join other provinces in pulling Russian vodka from liquor store shelves. It also announced a $1 million donation to the Red Cross in Ukraine, and Premier John Horgan has pledged to work with the federal government to welcome Ukrainian refugees to the province.

Still, experts say Canada and other Western nations can do more to help Ukraine, and that’s what many of the people in the crowd Saturday said they hoped to see.

One such action – blocking Russia’s access to the SWIFT international payment system – came while the Vancouver protest was still ongoing.

The U.S., U.K., European Union and Canada issued a joint statement announcing the new round of sanctions – which will be implemented in the coming days – Saturday afternoon.

Ponikarovskyi described blocking Russia’s access to SWIFT as the “number 1” thing Western nations could do to support Ukraine, but added several other measures he’d like to see.

“Number 2 is we want to embargo all of the oil and gas exports from Russia,” he said. “Number 3 is we want to embargo all of the tech imports to Russia. Not 50 per cent like they’ve done now, it has been 100 per cent of the technology to be banned to be imported into Russia. Number 4 is for NATO. If you can’t provide troops to us, at the very least you can protect our airspace from Russian artillery and Russian bombs. We want NATO to close our sky. Number 5, we want every country in the world to ban international flights to Russia and ban Russian airlines from entering our airspace.”

Source: CTV News