Turmoil in Ukraine sparks anxiety
The phones at Myrna Arychuk’s Burnaby travel agency start ringing at 7 a.m. But it’s not eager travellers calling to book their holidays to Ukraine, her specialty.
Instead they’re checking the status of the trips they’ve already booked. Or cancelling altogether since a protest by opponents of president Viktor Yanukovych erupted into fiery violence and bloodshed this week in Kiev and other cities.
At least 25 people, including nine police officers, died in clashes between protesters and security forces in Kiev’s Independence Square on Tuesday.
The protest started last November when Yanukovych turned his back on closer economic ties with Europe and instead accepted financial aid from Russia.
Arychuk said she already cancelled all her April bookings for trips to the country due to the uncertainty in the Ukraine.
She’s also laid off one of her agents. Meantime, she’s fielding calls from family and friends, getting updates, exchanging news and rumours. There are about 60,000 people with Ukrainian ties living in the Lower Mainland.
Arychuk says watching the violence on TV and the Internet has been especially upsetting, coming after a recent and meaningful trip home.
Last August she traveled to Kiev with her church, Holy Eucharist Cathedral in New Westminster, to celebrate the 1025th anniversary of Christianity in the Ukraine.
It was the first time in modern history Ukrainian Catholics had been able to celebrate such a milestone in their own country.
It was still under Soviet rule when the 1000th anniversary passed.
“I never would have believed this could happen,” said Arychuk. “I can hardly sleep at night.”
Holy Eucharist priest Bishop Ken Nowakowski, the spiritual leader of B.C.’s 7,500 Ukrainian Catholics, is also following the news from Kiev. He is going there Friday for church meetings, and recalls fond memories of walking in Independence Square and meeting protestors when he was last there in December.
“I’ve never seen such an orderly group of people, tens of thousands of people, they were very peaceful,” said Nowakowski.
He saw them set up soup kitchens and assign squads to keep the square clean. He also attended a service in a tent erected on the site of a cathedral that had burned to the ground by police in the protest’s early days.
“It is shocking,” said Nowakowski of this week’s violence. “My greatest fear is the situation is pitting Ukrainians against Ukrainians.
Attendance at his New West cathedral has increased as parishioners gather to pray for a peaceful resolution and share information.
“The main thing the churches can do is continue to pray,” said Nowakowski. “We can be that place where people can gather, have their own square, so to speak.”
Churches are also a meeting place for groups collecting donations and supplies to aid the protest, said Arychuk
She's already helped out with one such effort and will be attending another in Vancouver on Saturday.
“They’ve been standing there since November,” said Arychuk of the protestors. “We have to be supportive.”