Vankleek Hill was “Together for Ukraine” at the Arbor Gallery last weekend (June 4-5).
“Ensemble pour l’Ukraine” was a collaboration of six French-speaking Roman Catholic parishes, the Center de Création and Galerie Arbor, who came together at the Vankleek Hill site to show their support for Ukraine, as the country’s war against Russia continues to rage. .
Luke Chenieroriginally from Hawkesbury and now living in Alexandria, and Dmytro Gordiienko, a Ukrainian living in St. Eugeneshared their experiences with the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
Chenier served as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Kyiv Post, an English-language newspaper in the Ukrainian capital. He recalled the previous war between Russia and Ukraine in 2014. Trained as a graphic designer, Chenier created a Canadian flag in 2014 with the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag on it, instead of red and white. Since the start of the current war, he has used the flag as a symbol of Canada’s solidarity with Ukraine.
When Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula, Chenier said he was not afraid, or even sure, that Russia would invade again in 2022. However, Russia invaded on February 24 and Chenieralong with his Ukrainian wife and two daughters, began the arduous process of fleeing Kyiv and temporarily moving to Hungary before finally making it to Canada.
Chenier said the prospect of an invasion seemed like a lot of bluffing at first. When he was informed that journalists and foreigners were high on the blacklist of people the Russian invaders would detain, torture and even kill, he planned to take his wife and daughters to Canada for what would have been a two-month vacation while the situation unfolded. However, he was shocked when the first explosions of Russian bombs occurred – forcing him and his family to flee instantly.
It took Chenier and his family five days just to get out of Ukraine due to transportation difficulties, fuel shortages, high cost of supplies and the ever-present threat of danger. He was plagued by panic attacks and also faced the challenge of securing a supply of insulin to treat his diabetes. Chenier saw displaced people wandering along rural roads, taking what few possessions they could bring with them.
“It was just scary as hell, what was going on,” Chenier recalled.
Leaving created difficult emotions. Chenier said he felt bad about leaving friends in Ukraine. Eventually, he and his family were able to travel to Budapest, the capital of Hungary. There, they had difficulty obtaining visas for the family to travel to Canada. The Canadian government was initially slow to respond as increasing numbers of Ukrainians began to show interest in traveling to Canada.
A story about ChenierThe situation of was published in the French-language newspaper The Press. Potential public relations and political consequences forced the government to organize. Chenier says the immigration minister called him the day after the The Press story was published, to inform him that the visas were approved. Chenier is sad to be happy that the government is now much more organized to help Ukrainians resettle in Canada.
Chenier said the war with Russia had ironically given Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy credibility as a promoter of democracy. According Chenier, the president himself was becoming more dictatorial before the war, and increasingly persecuted political opponents and encroached on the freedom of the press. The Russian invasion forced him to defend freedom.
“It made him the president he always should have been,” Chanier remarked.
Chenier believes that Russian President Vladimir Putin is using the false accusation that Ukraine is full of Nazis as a propaganda ruse to drum up support, based on the great reverence Russians have for the Soviet Union’s fight against the Nazis during World War II.
“They’re just making up one lie after another” Chenier said.
Dmytro Gordiienko has been in Canada for three years working as a mechanical engineer on a dairy farm in St. Eugene. He described Putin as “greedy” and “scared”. He believes the Russian invasion was partly motivated by resentment of Ukraine having a better standard of living and better economy than many Russians.
Gordiyenko’s mother was able to leave her home and get out of Ukraine. She is currently in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria.
“I asked him to leave,” he said.
However, Gordiienko’s father remained in Ukraine.
Gordiyenko spoke about the effect of propaganda on Russians. He said that the false information that the Russian government presents as fact to its citizens includes that Ukraine does not really exist and that the whole idea of it was created by the United States.
Families settle down
In the meantime, two Ukrainian families have arrived in the region. Andrii Chornokulskyi and his family moved into a house in Vankleek Hill made available to them by the Vankleek Hill Baptist Church.
“For us, it’s really a blessing,” Chornokulskyi said.
His family is originally from Odessa, one of the largest cities in Ukraine. Since arriving in Vankleek Hill, Chornokulskyi has learned what a garage sale is and enjoyed checking out Trash and Treasure.
“I like the city,” he said.
The family left Ukraine by going to Moldova, then to Romania before going to Canada.
Bery Medika, his wife, Daria Zhuk, and their son Ryan now live in Hawkesbury. Medika is originally from Angola in Africa but met his wife while studying finance in Kyiv. They left Ukraine on February 24 and managed to get to Poland by train.
Medika said they were trying to adjust to a new life.
“It’s a new experience for us,” he said.
During the Together for Ukraine event at the Arbor Gallery, works by local artists and students from French-language Catholic schools in the region showing their support for Ukraine were exhibited.