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Red Deer honours lives lost in Ukraine

Candlelight vigil hosted at City Hall on Friday

More than 600 Ukrainians, driven out of their homes by the Russian invasion, have so far settled in Red Deer.

And many of these seniors and families with children attended a prayer service and candlelight service on Friday to mark a year since the war began.

The past 12 months have been an uncertain, stressful time for the newcomers, said Father Jim Nakonechny, who led the service at St. Vladimir Ukrainian Catholic Church in Red Deer.

“We hope to bring everyone together to remember friends, family and cousins. And we are praying for innocent victims.”

Many Ukrainians living in Red Deer have brothers or sons who are still fighting Russian soldiers in Ukraine, he added, “so every day they are scared to open their emails, or to take phone calls,” afraid to get news they dread hearing.

Churches in parts the Eastern European country are holding two to three funerals every week for people killed by bombs and bullets, he added.

“These young men are not trained to be soldiers. They’ve just had a six-week crash course, so it’s sad.”

Civilian war deaths from the invasion are estimated by various sources to be anywhere from 7,000 to 30,000, while up to 100,000 Ukrainian soldiers are thought to have been killed or wounded in 2022.

Nakonechny doesn’t believe the length of the conflict is a surprise to most Ukrainians. “They thought it was going to be a long, drawn-out war” — which is why many opted to leave their homes.

The people who are arriving still are finding apartments in Red Deer — although the vacancy rate is now below three per cent, so it is getting harder, said Nakonechny.

“We’re now asking them to line up their own accommodations for the first two weeks.”

As groups like the Ukrainian Displaced Persons Planning Committee of Red Deer, gather furnishings to help the families resettle, children are honing English skills at school, while their parents are finding entry-level jobs.

Many of the arriving adults have degrees in engineering and other skilled professions, and “they have to put their pride in their back pocket and do what they can for their families,” said Nakonechny.

He noted the Ukrainians residing in Alberta are very grateful for the warm welcome they received, for all the people who donated furnishings, hired them, and helped them navigate life in a new country.

Many are hoping to stay in Canada if the war exceeds the two-year term over which they are allowed to remain here. “Some are ready to put down roots. They see better lives for their children in Canada,” said Nakonechny, who believes these families might end up applying for permanent residency.

After the memorial service wrapped up at St. Vladimir Ukrainian Catholic Church on Friday, many attendees carrying blue and yellow Ukrainian flags regrouped at City Hall Park where candles were lit in memory of loved ones back home.


Lana Michelin

About the Author: Lana Michelin

Lana Michelin has been a reporter for the Red Deer Advocate since moving to the city in 1991.
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