As Ukrainians battle a Russian invasion, members of the Ukrainian Canadian community say people here who want to help just need a few dollars, some media savvy — or even a Sharpie and a bit of poster board.
Mariya Lesiv, an associate professor of folklore at Memorial University in St. John’s, N.L., says her friends and family back home in Ukraine can see the footage of the rallies and demonstrations held all over Canada, even in the tiniest, most far-flung towns.
“For people to realize that the whole world is thinking about them, that these small communities, these small towns are having rallies in support of the people of Ukraine, it’s really comforting. It boosts their morale,” Lesiv said in an interview Monday.
Lesiv moved to Canada from western Ukraine in 2003 to go to graduate school. She said all of her family — her parents, her siblings, her nine-year-old nephew — are still in Ukraine, wondering what will happen.
So far it’s been relatively safe where her family is, she said, “but of course, things change very rapidly and we don’t know how long that safety will last for.”
Russia began its assault on Thursday, bombing the capital of Kyiv and forcing residents to flee to the western part of the country or set up camp in subway stations and car parks in an effort to avoid the explosions. Leaders across the globe have condemned the attacks, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Lesiv said Canadians wanting to help Ukrainians could donate to the Canadian Red Cross, noting Ottawa has vowed to match every dollar to a maximum of $10 million. Even $20 can support a few people for a couple of days, she said.
Canadians can also help Ukrainians fight the battle of disinformation waged by Russian authorities, she said.
Valentyna Shapovalova, who studies Russian disinformation at the University of Copenhagen, agrees. The doctoral student said Monday that Russia is pushing several false narratives about Ukraine through state and social media in an effort to drum up public support for its actions.
These falsehoods include claims that the Ukrainian government is a Nazi regime, undemocratically imposed upon its people by Western countries and NATO. Russia is trying to convince its citizens — and the world — that it has stormed Ukraine in an effort to free its citizens, and that it’s a kind of peacekeeping mission, Shapovalova said.
The Russian government has also claimed it is not targeting civilians, which she said is false. On Monday, for example, The Associated Press reported that social media video from Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, showed residential areas being shelled, with apartment buildings shaken by repeated, powerful blasts. Authorities in Kharkiv said at least seven people had been killed and dozens injured. They warned that casualties could be far higher.
Meanwhile, there are videos and images circulating on social media that claim to be footage from the ground in Ukraine but that have been fabricated or misrepresented, Shapovalova said. “This is coming from both sides, both from Russians and from Ukrainians, and this is very typical in a moment of war on social media,” she said.
“Always verify,” she added. “Always try to see who is the original source, where is this coming from, and never share before you verify.”
Marc Shwec, chair of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress’s StandWithUkraine committee, encouraged Canadians to call out online disinformation when they see it.
“There are so many trolls out there spreading disinformation,” Shwec said Monday. “So anywhere they see this information, go and challenge them. Push back.”
He recommends donating to the Canada-Ukraine Foundation, a Toronto-based charity co-ordinating aid projects in Ukraine. They’re focused on humanitarian efforts like assisting refugees or helping towns provide medical services, he said. “They are very effective in getting money over very quickly, and they have local people on the spot there,” Shwec said.
As for the rallies in support of Ukrainians popping up across the country, he agrees they have a real impact.
“It indicates to the Canadian government there’s broad support,” he said, noting that puts pressure on Ottawa to respond with much-needed aid for Ukraine.
He said the outcome of the war will have a bearing on the future of democracy in Europe. “If Russia breaks through Ukraine, we don’t know who will be next after that,” he said.
—Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press