Good Friday in Kyiv

Pysanky in Sofiyska SquareA pysanka (plural: pysanky) is a Ukrainian painted Easter egg. It is a traditional and beautiful folk art, and we have several of them — most of them the wooden kind — in my family. Today I was on the square of St. Sofia Cathedral in Kyiv, Ukraine, where there is a wonderful display of giant modern art pysanky, on the occasion of Orthodox Easter, which will be on Sunday, May 1. The eggs on display were by trained artists, amateurs, and children, and were diverse, colourful, and a big hit with the crowds of Kyivans who came to see them.

Veterano PizzaVeterano Pizza is a restaurant near the Bessarabian Market that was started by veterans of the Russo-Ukrainian War that has been raging for two years. As occupational therapy for recovery and as a source of employment for vets, a pizza parlour is a great idea. I’m standing here in front of a wall of army unit badges, and of course there’s the Canadian flag — with messages of support to the troops, the “Ukrops,” who are defending Europe from Russian invaders. As well as good pizza, I was really digging the rockin’ rhythm & blues music they play at Veterano Pizza.

Putin Must Pay

Putin Must Pay demonstration - Dancin' in the StreetPutin Must Pay. According to the latest assessment from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, there are 1,438,000 internally displaced persons in Ukraine. They have fled their homes in Crimea and in Donbas, from the occupation army of the Russian Federation. Putin invaded Ukraine 15 months ago, and he has not made any sign of paying to repair the damage, or to alleviate the suffering of human beings he has caused. Far from it, he has made it worse by illegally annexing Crimea, despoiling Donbas, and prosecuting hybrid warfare against Ukraine using auxiliary troops led by special operations forces of the Russian army.

Putin Must Pay demonstration - Ukrainian dancersA group from Toronto came up by bus to demand “Putin Must Pay” in front of the Russian embassy in Ottawa. August 24 is the Day of Independence of Ukraine, so it was a celebration as well. Mostly it was a celebration of the tolerance, respect, and peace that we in democratic societies like Canada and Ukraine enjoy, and which the unfortunate people in Russia and in its conquered territories do not.

People Support Ukrainian Armed Forces

People Support Ukrainian Armed ForcesPeople Support Ukrainian Armed Forces. Українці Підтримують Свої Збройні Сили.

I got this t-shirt from a friend who was the commander of a “sotnya” (a “hundred” or company) on Maidan that was dedicated to principles of non-violence. They would not strike back at the Berkut, even though they were attacking them, because my friend and his comrades did not believe in violence against fellow Ukrainians. They helped the wounded and covered the protestors with their shields, instead.

Now, it’s different. Now Russia has invaded Ukraine in Crimea and in Donbas, and is invading Europe. The Ukrainian armed forces are on the front lines, holding back Russia’s armed forces. Despite the mortal danger all us in the democratic West now face, for the moment it is only ordinary Ukrainians who are supporting the Ukrainian army. Volunteers bring food and supplies to soldiers in the trenches. Throughout the country, practically everyone is making small donations at supermarkets and at bank machines — despite the economic crisis forced upon Ukraine by the Russian invasion.

We can help. We in the rich and comfortable West can do our duty, and support those who are risking their lives to defend our homeland as much as theirs. People Support Ukrainian Armed Forces. I do. I appeal to you: do it too!

Warsaw

Olga BoznańskaWitamy w Polsce! My parents and I flew to Warsaw from Vilnius very early in the morning, and shortly thereafter met my brother Robin, who flew from Ottawa.

We first visited the National Museum in Warsaw, where there is an exhibition of the paintings of Olga Boznańska. She lived from 1865 to 1940 and is one of the most renowned Polish painters. She was a highly successful portraitist, living in Paris from 1898. A comprehensive selection of Boznańska’s life-work, as well as a few significant influencers are in the exhibition.

Warsaw Uprising MuseumAfter a light Polish lunch in the gallery’s cafe, we visited the Warsaw Uprising Museum. This museum is newly-opened, and commemorates the heroic but doomed uprising of the Home Army (in Polish: Armia Krakowa) which lasted from August 1 to October 2 in 1944. The Warsaw uprising is heroic because the Poles fought against superior German forces with few weapons, and nevertheless inflicted heavy losses on the enemy. It was doomed because a massive Russian army sat idly by on the right bank of the Vistula, gave no support, and allowed the Nazis to slaughter thousands on thousands of Poles and utterly destroy Warsaw. As the Nazis were driven out of Poland, due in no small part to open combat by the Home Army, Stalin’s NKVD disarmed the Polish resistance, arrested and imprisoned its leadership, and imposed a puppet government on Poland. It would be a long 49 years before the invading and occupying Soviet Army would leave Poland, and the brave men and women of the Warsaw Uprising would be redeemed.

A choral commemoration of the Christmas truce of 1914

Christmas truce of 1914 commemorated at the Aviation MuseumAt Christmas time in 1914, the war in France had gone to the trenches, where it would remain for the next four years. After the sweeping battles of “the Guns of August” there was a brief winter lull, with the British and French dug in on one side, and the Germans and Austrians on the other, facing each other across No-Man’s Land. On Christmas Day, along some sections of the Western Front, soldiers from the opposing armies came out of their trenches for a brief Christmas truce. They showed each other photographs, exchanged small gifts, and in one case played a football match. It was ended when senior officers got wind of this unwarlike behaviour, and ordered the artillery to open up again, which sent the men scurrying back to the trenches.

The Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa is putting on an event called Gestures of Goodwill: Commemorating the “Christmas Truce” of 1914. Choirs sing Christmas carols, as the soldiers are said to have done to start the Christmas truce of 1914. In the foreground of this photo you see The Ottawa Sparrows Children’s Choir — they were Fritz, the Germans. On the other side of No-Man’s Land you see Aged in Harmony — they were Tommy, the British. The Ottawa Sparrows Children’s Choir started with Silent Night, in German (Stille Nacht), and then Aged in Harmony responded with O Come All Ye Faithful. Back and forth they went, from there. This was a charming commemoration of what was a fleeting display of humanity in the midst of the horrors of war.

Help a Ukraine defender this Christmas

Ukrainian soldier in the snowLast year at this time, “Maidan” was going strong in the streets of Kyiv, and Ukraine was on the cusp of throwing off the remnants of the Soviet Union and the decades of corruption which followed its demise. I contributed, and encouraged others to contribute, to Hromadske TV, a then purely online, independent media outlet that was getting the real story out. Today, Hromadske TV is as vibrant and as critical as ever, and is desperately needed as a scourge to politicians and the powers-that-be in Ukraine.

This Christmas, there is a new threat to Ukraine’s chosen European path, and that is the invasion by Russia. Since March, Russian invasion forces, mercenaries, and local proxies have occupied 17% of Ukraine’s territory, in Crimea in the south and in Donbas in the east. Ukraine is fighting back, in an Anti-Terrorist Operation led by a reviving Ukrainian Army and by new National Guard units and volunteer battalions. But they are woefully under-equipped. Ukraine is now forced to fight a winter war, without winter equipment. They don’t even have something as basic as winter sleeping bags … and that’s where EuroMaidan Ottawa comes in, with their campaign called Sleep-Sacks for Soldiers!

EuroMaidan Ottawa staged attention-getting rallies in favour of Ukraine and against the Russian invasion last winter and spring, but now their attention is rightfully turned to helping the Ukrainian soldiers who are on the front lines, defending their country. I’ve contributed, and I’ve asked my family to contribute, and I ask you to contribute. It is volunteers who are sustaining the war effort, while Ukraine gets back on its feet to effectively throw back the invader. Please consider helping these volunteers provide winter sleeping bags that will make a difference. Patriotism will make a man sleep in the cold like the soldier here — but he shouldn’t have to, for his noble cause.

Sleep-Sacks for Soldiers!

Help the Ukrainian Army’s 95th Airmobile Brigade

95th Airmobile Brigade, UkraineThe fighters of the 95th Airborne Brigade[46] need your help. After continuous fighting and shelling by GRAD artillery[47], the guys’ uniforms and shoes were badly damaged. A lot of equipment was destroyed as well. While talking on the phone with one of the fighters in the 13th Battalion of the 95th Airborne Brigade, we found out their priority needs:
– shoes
– uniforms
– T-shirts, underwear, socks

We need your donation to help equip the fighters. For the first effort, we are going to get uniforms, medicine, sleeping pads (as the guys are sleeping in the fields on their bulletproof vests, if they have any), thermo blankets and so on.

Here are the accounts to donate money:
PrivatBank card: 5211 5373 2161 6711 (Svyatoslav Yuriyovych Shevchenko).
PayPal: oksana24@live.com
Information for SWIFT transfers:
    BENEFICIARY: SHEVCHENKO SVJATOSLAV
    ACCOUNT: 5168757253579637
    BANK OF BENEFICIARY: PRIVATBANK
    SWIFT CODE: PBANUA2X
    INTERMEDIARY BANK: JP MORGAN CHASE BANK
    SWIFT CODE: CHASUS33
    CORRESPONDENT ACCOUNT: 0011000080
    IBAN: UA233007110005168757253579637

For additional questions:
Arthur Pereverziev
Twitter: @enaxarte

The new face of Ukraine

Michael MacKay and Artur Pereverziev in KyivArtur Pereverziev acted as my interpreter for my time in Ukraine as a Long-Term Observer for the election. Here we are, standing in front of St. Andrew’s Church in Kyiv — he’s wearing an antique “vyshyvanka sorochka” (embroidered shirt) made from course muslin. It turns out that Artur is much more than a helpful fellow who happens to know Ukrainian, Russian, and English fluently. He and his wife were active on Maidan from its earliest days, and he became a commander of a “sotnya”, which is a company of self-defence forces. His sotnya subscribed to principles of non-violence, and Artur told me that he never threw a stone or a Molotov cocktail at the hated Berkut, only because they were his fellow Ukrainians. His sotnya provided cover and evacuated the peaceful civilians when the march on the Verkhovna Rada was violently broken up by the titushky and Berkut, ultimately leading to the mass shootings on Institytska Street. His belief in non-violence does not extend to the Russians who have invaded Ukraine in Crimea and Donbas, though. There is a war going on, and Ukraine is on the front line, and Artur and all Ukrainians know it. As his work for the Canadian election observation mission wound down, he became more involved with the National Guard, especially with their urgent need for recruitment of able-bodied men to fight in the Anti-Terrorist Operation. As we parted in Kyiv, Artur showed me his newly-granted credentials as a special advisor to the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine. He only just turned 25, and this is his historic moment.

When I worked with similar young people at the Kiev-Mohyla Academy 20 years ago, I hoped that they would seize the moment of liberation and national unity then. They did not: they turned their backs on Ukraine, or they became part of the corrupt oligarchy which despoiled it. Remarkably, Ukraine has a chance now to redeem past failures, and activists like Artur are the ones to do it. I admire his sense of purpose and most of all his good will for the Ukrainian people and their brighter future.

An uneasy but stalwart defence of Ukraine

Infantry fighting vehicle defending the border of UkraineWhile doing my work as an election observer in Ukraine, I took a moment to drive near the border. I’ll be vague about where exactly, and how much I saw, because I only want the best for these defenders of Ukraine’s sovereignty. They had in one emplacement this infantry fighting vehicle. I spoke to one of the soldiers. Like soldiers everywhere, he had his own opinions about how the army should be run and gripes about his officers, but he was fierce in his determination to defend Ukraine, with whatever resources he is given.

While I was there, a young couple drove up and stepped out of their car. “Slava Ukraina!” they called. “Heroyim Slava!” came the proper response. They reached into their car, and pulled out an over-flowing bag of groceries, and gave it to the soldiers. This is how Ukraine is going to prevail over the invaders from Russia: with affecting but practical support of its own people.

Election observers and a voter in uniformHere I am with one of the soldiers and my fellow observer. I have my badge from the Central Election Commission and the moral suasion of Canada to protect me, whereas he has an AK-74 assault rifle. Which one of us is in a better position, I wonder? I hope to never have it put to the test.