Downtown Grande Prairie was flooded with blue and yellow Wednesday night as upwards of 125 people took part in an event to commemorate Ukraine’s Independence Day. A crowd gathered at Grande Prairie City Hall for the raising of the Ukrainian flag, and remarks by Mayor Jackie Clayton, who is of Ukrainian heritage.
“Here in Grande Prairie we are very fortunate to have such a strong Ukrainian community, whose community spirit, kindness, and dedication rings loud and clear and true, enriching our community in countless ways,” she addressed the gathering.
According to Statistics Canada data, 11 per cent of Canadians with Ukrainian ancestry live in the three Prairie provinces. In the 2021 census, 130 Grande Prairie residents claimed Ukrainian as their mother tongue.
“Now, more than ever, it’s important to recognize what makes the Ukrainian spirit unique and invaluable as we stand in solidarity with Ukrainian people at home and abroad defending their homeland against Russian aggression,” Clayton continued.
The group then took to the streets, walking through the downtown core waving flags and garnering honks of support from people driving by. Organizer Alina Ovsiy says the date is particularly poignant, as it marks six months to the day of the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“Ukrainians have had to fight for being Ukrainians since [the] 1900s where our literature was prohibited in Ukrainian language,” she says, referring to the historical censorship of Ukrainian literature in Russia stemming back to a decree in 1863. “And that’s why it’s so important; we just want to be who we are and be proud of our heritage and not be threatened by another country.”
Ovsiy moved to Grande Prairie from the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv in 2011. She has felt moved since the start of the war to speak up for her people, helping organize the first rally in the city back in March, drawing roughly 80 people on a snowy day. She says it’s an incredible feeling to see even more people standing in solidarity.
“It’s so heartwarming because a lot of us still have family in Ukraine, our uncles, aunties. Some of these people have their parents there as well, so it’s so important to see the support.”
In addition to her job as a teacher, Ovsiy teaches evening classes to newly arrived Ukrainians. She says many of them are dealing with culture shock, as well as some guilt for having made it out of the conflict.
“Not everybody’s ready to drop everything and move to another side of the world. and not know what the future will be. I think it is so difficult for them and for all of us because we feel guilty; we have this anxiety and this feeling of guilt. Why do I deserve to live in this peaceful time when my friends could be all dead tomorrow?”
The Rotary Club of Grande Prairie has set up a website to help direct resources towards Ukrainians settling in the city.