Michael Fedyna, who owns Red Deer's AVESC electronics store, moved to Canada from Ukraine in 1990. He says Ukraine has no choice but to fight, but Russia has the choice to return home. (Photo by Paul Cowley/Advocate staff)

Red Deerians with Ukrainian ties watch anxiously as Russia invades

Ukrainians have no choice but to fight back, says man who came to Canada from Ukraine in 1990

Red Deer residents with Ukrainian links could only watch anxiously as the scale of Russia’s attack became frighteningly clear Thursday.

At Red Deer’s St. Vladimir Ukrainian Catholic Church, Father Jim Nakonechny planned to hold a special service on Thursday evening to allow its members to pray for friends and family whose lives may now be in danger.

“We’ve been praying after every service for the last two months for peace in Ukraine,” said Nakonechny, whose congregation has about 70 Ukrainian families, most of them recent arrivals to Canada.

But as frightening images from Ukraine were broadcast he sent out the call to parishioners to gather immediately in support for each other and friends and family far away.

Nakonechny said Ukrainians have watched with foreboding as Russia built up its forces on three sides of Ukraine. No one believed Russian assurances about routine military exercises.

“Ukraine has been through enough invasion and oppression by the Soviet Union and the Russian empire. We knew that was no exercise that was happening, that this was going to be something bigger.

“I just spoke to my cousin in western Ukraine today and he said at 4 a.m. there was a missile attack 30 kilometres from their place,” he said. “The schools have now been closed, universities are closed.

“Everyone is at home and they’re scared because they don’t know where the next bomb is going to hit.”

His cousin said they are praying that western democracies, especially the U.S., will provide them with much-needed air support.

“They have tanks and they have troops but they don’t have aircraft. And right now it looks like Russia is trying to hit all the major infrastructure, the airports and the power stations, to try to bring Ukraine down to its knees.

“I hope the West can do more than just sanctions because this is going to affect more than just Europe, it’s going to affect the whole world,” he said.

“It’s going to take more than sanctions. Russia has been preparing for this since 2014 when they annexed Crimea. We’re very concerned. (Putin) is not going to stop.

“He wants all of Ukraine and he wants to remake the Soviet Union and the Russian empire.”

Despite the dark times, when Nakonechny next stands before his congregation his message will be one of hope and that God loves everyone.

“It’s all going to be on everyone’s mind to pray for peace. The Ukrainian people are very religious and very prayerful. Ukraine has a very strong and ancient faith and we kind of put everything in God’s hands and ask him to intercede,” he said.

“We focus on what is impossible for Man, is possible for God.”

Red Deer’s Michael Fedeyna, 70, came to Canada from Ukraine in 1990 and most of his family on his and his wife’s sides still live there.

As news of the Russian invasion spread, he tried to reach them by Skype but could not make a connection. Likely hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of others were also trying, he suspects.

Fedeyna was taken aback by the scale of the Russian attack.

“Much worse than I expected. I didn’t expect Belarus would join Putin’s forces.”

Despite the forces ranged against it, Ukraine will fight to defend its freedom, he said.

“There’s no choice. We have to fight and we will fight to the death.”

By contrast, Russia has a choice. They can stop their invasion and return home, he said.

If Russia is to be stopped, the West, especially the U.S., must continue to supply Ukraine with the weapons and aid it needs.

Fedeyna said a strong message should also be sent to Russia by making Ukraine a global partner of NATO, a status held by countries such as Japan, Australia, South Korea, Pakistan and five other nations. NATO also has 30 full members.

By making Ukraine a partner, the message will be sent that the country has NATO’S full support.

“Any talks will not help now. Sanctions do work, but in the long term.”

Red Deer’s Alex Ivanenko, 37, said some of his relatives and their young children have fled Kyiv to Kovel on the west side of Ukraine because of the shelling and fears the Russian’s intend to take the nation’s capital.

Even in Kovel, which is only 50 km from Poland and 80 km from Belarus far from the eastern part of the country, the signs of war are there.

“My uncle said that for the first time — he’d never seen this before — armoured tanks and armoured vehicles with Ukrainian troops were heading to the Belarusian border.”

His uncle also made sure to go out and fuel up all the family’s vehicles.

“It’s a waiting game. They’re waiting for a full-on invasion from Belarus.”

An aunt, who owns a small store in Kovel, said it was eerily quiet and streets near empty.

Ivanenko said he and other members of the local Ukrainian community are hoping to organize a rally in support of Ukraine in Red Deer this weekend.

“Support right now is the only thing we can really offer our people.”

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