'I am not OK': Canadian Ukrainian in Kamloops in emotional pain as Russia invades homeland | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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'I am not OK': Canadian Ukrainian in Kamloops in emotional pain as Russia invades homeland

A Ukrainian flag is seen at a rally of support in Kamloops, Feb. 26, 2022.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Dieter Dudy

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is causing anger, fear and grief among Canadian Ukrainians who are watching from a distance.

Michele Huston is the founder of the Sim’ya Ukrainian Society in Kamloops and a senior Ukrainian dance instructor there. She is a second generation Canadian Ukrainian.

She is in regular contact with members of the society and their families, and has been receiving personal phone calls and emails since the invasion.

READ MORE: Cultural backlash intensifies against Russia over invasion

Huston said the war is a continuation of history, that today’s fight for freedom and identity as Ukrainians is ongoing, and has culturally deep roots, but that doesn’t make it less painful. Many Canadian Ukrainians are suffering.

“For Canadian Ukrainians this is generational,” she said. “Russia has done this before... and our families came to Canada for this reason. Our grandparents sat us down and told us why we are here. My baba told us her story of coming to Canada after (the First World War). A lot of Ukrainians came here for safety during that time.”

While Huston has cousins in Ukraine she is not close with them. The majority of her large family lives in Canada. She feels the difficult emotions her family and fellow Ukrainian Canadians are experiencing.

“At first I thought I was OK while this is happening, but I am not OK, it hurts,” she said. “When I hear Putin say things about Ukraine that are not true he is denying me my culture with his words. We are frustrated.”

She said her friends born in the Ukraine who are currently in Canada are sad and afraid.

“For them it is a different world because their families and relatives persevered and stayed in Ukraine,” she said. “Now they are being bombed and no one is sure what will be left when they go back.”

Huston recently organized a rally to help show support for Ukraine, and Ukrainians in the community. It drew hundreds of people to a downtown park in Kamloops on Feb. 26. 

“I was shocked at the size of the turnout,” she said. “I walked them up to Lansdowne. We stretched out to form a line of unity. When Ukraine celebrated their independence in 1991 they made a line of unity in Kyiv. People shared stories and prayers. There is a lot of support here in Kamloops.”

Huston said her beloved Baba, the Ukrainian name for grandmother, was 4’3” tall and had 15 kids.

“She was very tiny and very strong,” she said. “You could visit her and eat in her kitchen, but you wouldn’t want to make her cross, she was a tough old lady.

“I give thanks to my Baba for being a strong person, teaching us our culture and telling us the stories to keep it alive. She helped to maintain the culture we deserve, a lot was lost during (the First World War). Today we continue to fight for an identity, we are fighting to be who we are.”

While the future for Ukraine remains uncertain, Huston said there are ways for the community to show support and solidarity.

"Reach out to those affected," she said. "If you want a visual wear a sunflower. If I walk by someone with one of those I think they are supporting Ukraine."

The sunflower is the national flower for Ukraine. 

Huston has more plans in the works for future solidarity events.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Shannon Ainslie or call 250-819-6089 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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