On March 6, students at the University of Saskatchewan will join together in solidarity with those taking part in the Euromaidan protests in Ukraine.
Euromaidan protests began in November 2013 in Kyiv’s Independence Square — Maidan Nezalezhnosti — when a nearly solidified agreement for Ukraine to join the European Union fell through, as former president Viktor Yanukovych did not sign on the grounds that financial issues could only be solved through increased trade with Russia.
Since November the protests have grown to a full-fledged movement demanding electoral reforms, democracy and freedom from the heavy influence of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The political situation in Ukraine has further intensified recently as Russian troops invaded and seized Crimea — a peninsula in the Black Sea — over the first days of March. Crimea was part of the former Soviet Union until 1954, meaning the majority of Crimeans are still ethnically Russians. There are fears that the region’s Tatar minority — which was previously expelled by the Soviets — could be persecuted in the event of a Russian invasion.
The University of Saskatchewan Ukrainian Student’s Association is hosting the “Light Up a Candle for Ukraine” event that will take place by the statue of Lesya Ukrainka — an activist and well-known writer and poet. Students are encouraged to bring their own Canadian and Ukrainian flags, candles and any other patriotic decorations.
The intent of the event is to remember those who have died during the Euromaidan protests, raise awareness of Ukraine’s current situation and to unite U of S students in support of Ukrainians.
Sessional lecturer Natalia Khanenko-Friesen, associate professor Nadya Foty-Oneschuk and professor Bohdan Kordan will be speaking at the event about the Euromaidan protests and military action in Ukraine. Lara Zaluski, a U of S student with Ukrainian ancestry, will talk about her two friends that died during the the protest in Kyiv.
Father Taras Makowsky will lead a brief a prayer before a minute of silence, after which attendees will light their candles.
Viktoiya Kalchenko, a student with family in Ukraine, decided that an event to inform the U of S campus about current events in Ukraine was necessary after she was approached by a number of students who were curious about the situation.
“I think it’s really important to support Ukraine right now especially [since the] Russian invasion and all those events are happening,” she said.
Kalchenko, Khanenko and Yuriy Kirushok are the primary organizers of the event with some support from the USUSA.
By holding the event, USUSA President Jenna Sakowsky said the focus is simply to inform students at the U of S about the current events in Ukraine.
“We believe that this is more important than fundraising for relief efforts, as the Ukrainian people’s fight for their sovereignty and their right to democracy is at the forefront of their concerns right now. Financial assistance will not prevent Russia from invading their country,” Sakowsky wrote in an email to the Sheaf days before Russian soldiers entered Ukraine.
Sakowsky said that Canadians need to be aware of what is occurring in Ukraine and must encourage their government to express their displeasure with Russia’s military actions.
“The need for a support group for students on campus has not been expressed — what is needed is support for Ukraine’s independence by the world and especially the Ukrainian diaspora in Canada,” Sakowsky wrote.
David Ogunkanmi, international student representative on University Students’ Council, said that when fellow international students are having issues of conflict back home — like there currently is in Ukraine and Venezuela — are quick to help out any way they can.
“It’s interesting because as an international student, we all keep tabs on what is going on in different countries and actually a lot of international students were asking me, ‘Hey, something is going on in Ukraine … did you hear about it?’” Ogunkami said. “And then we were thinking of what we can do.”
Ogunkanmi said the Global Peace Alliance is interested in helping out at the event to support Ukraine and everyone at the U of S that is affected by the protests.
“The Ukrainian community is very strong in Saskatoon. Every one of us has a friend or two who are Ukrainian so they are like, ‘We are all together, we are one,’” he said.
A Previous version of this article wrongly stated Father Taras Makowsky’s name, as well as Viktoiya Kalchenko’s name. These have now been corrected.