Every morning after she wakes up, Olena Gurr messages her family members and friends to make sure they’re alive and OK.
The Langdon resident of over four years is originally from Ukraine, a country that has been under military invasion by Russian forces since Feb. 24. Having lived for much of her life in Chernihiv and Kiev, Gurr said it has been extremely scary to watch what is happening in her native country.
“Two cities that are very close to my heart are being bombed right now,” Gurr said.
“It’s devastating and I feel like all I can do is scroll through the news. There are Telegram channels of Ukrainian news and they send updates all the time. All I read is ‘Sirens in this city – go hide.’”
While she has lived in Canada for the last 13 years, Gurr said most of her family and friends are still in Ukraine. She said after a few nervous days, she was recently able to get in touch with her father in Chernihiv, and was relieved to find out he was all right, even though his neighbourhood had been bombed.
Due to a recent loss of power in Ukraine, Gurr said her father was limiting his device usage to save the battery for as long as possible, which is why he had taken a few days to respond.
“He was able to send a message but said he needs to save his battery, so he only turns on his phone once every 24 hours,” Gurr said. “Everyone is hiding in basements or underground parkades. Sometimes there are bad connections. That’s scary when you send a message, and then count the hours where no one answers you.”
After weeks of mobilization at the border and increasing threat levels, Russia’s military forces, under the order of President Vladimir Putin, invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. Since then, Russia's army has been attempting to overtake the country city by city, seeing success in cities like Kharkiv – Ukraine's second biggest municipality – but experiencing strong resistance in the capital, Kiev, where thousands of Ukrainians have stayed behind to mobilize their defence.
Gurr said she was initially upset at the slow reaction from the western world to Russia’s mobilization at the Ukraine border and the impending invasion, though she added the sanctions that countries have implemented on Russia since Feb. 24 – including Canada – have been positive.
“Now there are so many sanctions and that’s great they’re starting to help, but if the western world had brought some troops to protect Ukraine from day one, I don’t think it would have gotten so bad,” she said.
“[Ukrainians are] asking us to help protect the sky because missiles and bombs are how the majority of people are suffering, and there’s not much being done.”
Another Langdon resident with familial ties to Ukraine is Ann Hamilton, who has lived in the hamlet for more than 50 years. She said that while she was born and raised in Canada, her parents were both from Ukraine – her father immigrated to Canada in 1912, while her mother did the same in 1925.
Hamilton said she grew up speaking Ukrainian, and visited the country of her parents' birth 15 years ago. She added it has been heartbreaking to watch the country withstand so much bombing.
“It’s just devastating to see it,” she said, adding she still remembers the stories about war that her parents told her of their homeland when she was growing up.
“I can hear my mother talking about Ukrainians being under the Russian regime,” Hamilton said. “There was a war when she left there. I can remember my mom talking about what happened. She was born in 1903 but came to Canada in 1925.”
Over one million Ukrainians fled the nation in the first week following the Russian invasion, most of whom landed in Poland, according to the United Nations’ refugee agency.
Gurr said her Canadian friends and neighbours have told her they are willing to do whatever they can to support Ukrainians who may arrive in Alberta as refugees in the coming months.
But bureaucracy will likely make it difficult for Ukrainian refugees who are fleeing the violence by coming to Canada, she added.
“They still need to get a Visa and [bring] biometrics and all this paperwork,” Gurr said. “When you run away from your house in a war, you don’t bring your banking slips and stuff like that.”
Gurr said she has been grateful for the support shown toward Ukrainians by Canadians, and added she hopes the war will be over as soon as possible – and that it will bring an end to Putin’s regime in Russia.
“I’m happy lots of friends from Russia I have here understand what’s happening and also support Ukraine. Hopefully, it will be over soon,” she said. “I’m hoping Canada’s government can do something to [help]. Even if the war ends tomorrow, people have lost their houses. They’ve lost everything.”