opinion column

Everyone has a role to play in Ukraine crisis

As a high school student in Tanzania, I had lodged a one-person protest in boycotting goods imported from then apartheid-ruled South Africa. The boycott also adopted by others spread like wildfire, crippling South Africa economically and eventually bringing down the racist government.

The decision to remove Russian brand liquor from Canadian stores is a right move, however, small, to express our disgust at the atrocities committed by Vladimir Putin in Ukraine. Our liquor stores are well-stocked with alternative brands from countries that value human dignity and sovereignty. While Canada and other nations are doing what they can to cripple Russia’s economy by imposing sanctions, and providing military hardware, the onus is on every individual citizen in freedom-loving nations to play their part.

I would go a stage further to suggest that on an individual basis, everyone should contemplate boycotting Russia as a tourist destination while others should consider donating funds to help thousands of fleeing Ukrainian refugees, mostly women and children, stranded in Europe. Businesses and state agencies must stop doing business with Russian entities.

Putin’s reign of terror, unprecedented in modern times, is reminiscent of an oppressor invading a democratic sovereign nation unprovoked. He has even threatened by putting his nuclear forces on high alert and escalating tensions. It’s unlikely that Putin will soften his demand to bar Ukraine from joining NATO. Putin’s war is not even getting support at home where there has been mounting resistance in 51 cities and 5,959 anti-war protestors have been arrested for opposing the barbaric war against innocent civilians.

One positive result of the Russian invasion is that at least it has prompted the West to unite and show outstanding solidarity. It’s encouraging to see every democratic country in the world coming forward to help Ukraine in its fight with equipment, tanks and other military equipment. Even usually neutral Switzerland has joined European nations to show solidarity.

It’s comforting to see that Canada in keeping with its glittering image as a country always welcoming those fleeing violence and persecution, is prioritizing Ukrainians by opening its doors to them. I have no doubt that the 1.3 million Canadian Ukrainian community and other immigrant groups will do their utmost to help settle these refugees.

Canada must do more than just prioritize applications for the fleeing Ukrainians, who should be allowed to come without visas. Canada cannot afford to have another example of a snail-pace, red tape, bureaucratic system which was used during the Afghanistan crisis.

The hero of the moment should undoubtedly be Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, a man who used to entertain the nation, who has become its powerful voice and a strong national leader holding his country together in its darkest hour of history. When the U.S. offered to airlift him to safety, he is reported to have retorted: “The fight is here; I need anti-tank ammo, not a ride.” As the Economist magazine said: “That was not the role he had chosen, but the one that was thrust upon him when Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24th. He has carried it off with dignity, strength, and a dash of humour.”

Ukrainians have inspired the world, but it is early to assess the impact of military and financial help and sanctions offered by the international community in comparison with the direct human tragedy within Ukraine. Russia has done immeasurable damage to its own long-term interests, and it would take years before anyone would trust Putin and his cronies again.

Mansoor Ladha is a Calgary-based journalist and author of Memoirs of a Muhindi: Fleeing East Africa for the West and A Portrait in Pluralism: Aga Khan’s Shia Ismaili Muslims.