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Thunder Bay woman worries for her relatives in Ukraine

The situation demands 'more Churchills than Chamberlains,' a local clergyman says.
Ukraine troops
Members of the Ukrainian military take part in a recent training exercise near Kyiv (file photo)

THUNDER BAY — Hundreds of Thunder Bay families with roots in Ukraine are becoming increasingly worried about the threat the country faces from Russian President Vladimir Putin's build-up of forces near its border

Many of them, such as Ollie Sawchuk, have relatives and friends in Ukraine.

Her son moved there for work about 20 years ago, and lives in Kyiv with his wife and daughter.

Sawchuk also has numerous cousins in Ukraine.

She told TBNewswatch she's keeping her fingers crossed for their safety, but said her son may have to relocate his family to protect them.

"At first, the Ukrainians were not too concerned, because of course Putin has played this game before. But right now they are not sure where he stands, and I think the country now is finally concerned."

Sawchuk last saw her family during a visit to Ukraine last September.

She said other members of the Ukrainian community in Thunder Bay are just as anxious as she is about will happen if Russia launches an attack.

"Absolutely. It's being talked about everywhere. People are very concerned. There are a few who doubt that he would do anything because they feel Putin has a lot to lose. But I think most of them are still concerned about what's happening because they have family there."

Sawchuk's father and husband were both born in Ukraine and were extremely active in Ukrainian-Canadian organizations in Thunder Bay.

At the Ukrainian Catholic Church of the Holy Cross on Victoria Avenue, Father Stepan Didur said his parishioners are praying for Ukraine.

Father Didur moved to Canada about 20 years ago.

He believes the West needs to take a stronger stand against Russia to deter its aggression.

"I feel like this is like before the start of the Second World War. The world needs more Churchills than Chamberlains," he said, referring to the prime minister who stood up to Adolf Hitler and the one whose efforts to appease him proved fruitless.

Didur said if the western democracies don't present a unified front against Russia, Putin will keep getting what he wants.

"He does what he wishes to do...and he sees that nothing happens...Nobody stops him. It's not looking very good."

Echoing his call for a more vigorous response from the West, Sawchuk said Canada needs to step up its support for Ukraine, specifically by enhancing its military training initiative.

"I also feel they should be helping with military equipment and whatever else Canada can possibly do," she said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday did announce the extension of the mission to train Ukrainian soldiers by three years.

The mission will also be expanded.

As part of the $340-million commitment, the Canadian Armed Forces will deploy 60 personnel to join 200 troops already in Ukraine, with capacity to increase that to 400.

Trudeau said there's also a provision for non-lethal equipment, intelligence-sharing and support to combat cyberattacks.

Last week, the federal government announced a $120 million loan to bolster Ukraine's economy.

Gary Rinne

About the Author: Gary Rinne

Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Gary started part-time at Tbnewswatch in 2016 after retiring from the CBC
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