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BC Ukrainians, newcomers rally to protest two years of war in Ukraine

Vancouver and other B.C. cities planning rallies to remind locals the war in Ukraine is still on and Ukrainians still need their support

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When Julia Lubevych celebrates her birthday on Sunday, it will be special — and bittersweet. It’s her 30th, it’s the first time she celebrates a birthday in her new home of Canada, and it’s her third since Russia’s full-scale invasion of her home country in Ukraine.

As Ukrainians and others on Saturday mark two years since Russia invaded Ukraine, with rallies across Canada and the world, including at the Vancouver Art Gallery, each will remember where they were when they heard missiles flying overhead or read news of the attacks in the early hours of Feb. 24, 2022.

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More than a thousand Ukrainian supporters turned out at the Vancouver rally, waving yellow and blue flags and reminding people that the war is not over.

A newly pregnant Lubevych and her husband and toddler daughter had begun sleeping in the same bed in their Kyiv home on the morning of her 28th birthday, Feb. 26, 2022, and her husband wished her a happy birthday.

“He said he didn’t know what to get me, and I said the only thing I want is to have my babies in a safe place,” said Lubevych from her Burnaby home, where the family settled after arriving in Canada in August, via Poland and the U.S.

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Julia Lubevych in Burnaby, BC, February 23, 2024. Photo by Arlen Redekop /PNG

Lubevych’s 29th birthday was spent in the U.S. without her husband while he went ahead to Vancouver to find out about an IT job. So this year, she feels like she can celebrate and has plans for a video call with 20 friends who live in about 10 different countries.

“I knew them all in Kyiv,” she said.

Although their lives were uprooted when they decided to flee Ukraine — Julia and her daughter left and were joined six months later by her husband — they know they are luckier than most because he was pursuing a post-graduate degree and was therefore exempted from having to remain in Ukraine to possibly fight in the war.

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The Lubevyches are among the more than 200,000 Ukrainians who arrived in Canada on special three-year visitor visas under the Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency travel program. The deadline for applications was last summer.

More than 18,400 Ukrainians who arrived under the program had received B.C. Care Cards for medical services as of October 2023, according to the B.C. Health Ministry.

It’s not known how many who arrived in the Vancouver area moved to other provinces or back to Ukraine because the federal government doesn’t track their movement after they arrive.

But local service agencies and others that have been helping Ukrainians find accommodation, jobs, English classes, schools and daycares, say there has been an influx of Ukrainians arriving over the past month because to be eligible for assistance under the emergency travel program, they must enter before the end of March.

Those agencies also say the second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion — the country had first invaded Eastern Ukraine in 2014 — is a good time to remind Canadians that Ukraine is still under constant attack and the war isn’t over, said Irina Shyroka, president of the B.C. branch of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.

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With files from Jason Payne

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