Mandryk: It’s time for Canadians to repay our debt to Ukraine


Ukraine has given Saskatchewan and Canada honest, hard-working people who have made this province a better place. They taught us freedom.

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Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is terrifying to a world that has grown accustomed to peace.

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But it particularly resonates — or at least it should — in a place like Saskatchewan.

For all, this should be a reminder that the world is not a safe place for some. Like many places in the world, Ukraine has never had the luxury of extended peace and freedom that we take for granted in North America.

We should recognize that we did not magically achieve our peace and freedom on our own. It took the sacrifice of those of the past. It took those who lived a life that knew that “oppression” and “freedom” were more than just words.

The chilling reality is that we are all now forced to consider at least a global conflict – something we haven’t had to think about since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 60 years ago, or perhaps the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union in 1979 four decades ago.

But the blessing for North Americans – or at least the blessing for most of us who are immigrants to this country and who do not bear the burden of a family history of oppression that accompanied colonization – is that we have not experienced war against our soil.

Because our grandfathers 80 years ago paid dearly for our freedom and that of others, freedom in North America today has never been in question.

That’s why we must challenge those who now have the audacity to wave our flag a choice done to not get vaccinated and help stop the spread of a virus. They dishonor the graves of those who paid so much. This is why those who have joined Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin’s sycophantic cult of the American right must turn off Fox News and similar right-wing echo chambers.

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We really need to start understanding not only what is happening elsewhere in the world today, but how it is a product of our world collectively. For some of us, our lineages make it easier.

It is estimated that one in 10 Saskatchewanians has Ukrainian heritage. I am a. Over a century ago, my family was looking for an opportunity on the Canadian prairies. They willingly endured the harsh climate and economic realities because Canada’s promises of opportunity, peace and freedom were better than anything their families had ever known.

The history of Ukraine is a millennium of warding off invaders and dictators – Vikings, Mongols, Tartars, Poles and Lithuanians, Austro-Hungarians, Russian tsars, tRussian Soviets to Nazis…and now Putin’s Russia.

Those of us who have followed do not personally know this suffering. But maybe it’s time to tap into those stories from our lineages. Some are not that old.

Families of Ukrainian descent like those of my former colleague and mentor Dale Eisler (who once graced this space) knew about the oppression of the Bolsheviks which he wove into his book “Anton: A Young Boy, His Friend and the Russian Revolution”. It has now been made into a movie.

To the east of the Saskatchewan Legislature stands a statue commemorating the Holodomor – the 1920s Ukrainian suffering and famine under Josef Stalin that killed at least four million Ukrainians.

Living in Canada, and especially living in Saskatchewan, means being steeped in 20th century Ukrainian history, which also includes the Nazi invasion that decimated the country and killed millions more Ukrainians.

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It’s no small irony that their sufferings on the other side of the world have enriched us all.

Ukraine has given Saskatchewan and Canada honest, hard-working people who have made this province a better place. They taught us freedom. They have contributed to all segments of society and their contributions have crossed party lines, bringing us leaders like Roy Romanow of the NDP and Ken Krawetz of the Saskatchewan Party.

As Prime Minister Scott Moe noted in his plea for humanitarian support to Ukraine, “Many peoples, strength.”

We owe a great debt to the Ukrainian people. It would be a wonderful time to pay it back.

Mandryk is the political columnist for the Regina Leader-Post and the Saskatoon StarPhoenix.

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