‘Can you imagine?’ Ukrainian-Canadians moved by Zelenskyy’s plea in Parliament

“Our cities … are unprotected, just like your cities are protected – Edmonton, Vancouver. You can see kyiv being shelled, bombed… it was a very peaceful country, peaceful cities. Now they are constantly bombarded.

The president said he was grateful to the Canadian government but was desperate for more help, including a no-fly zone to stop Russian planes and missiles.

Canada, as a NATO member, has so far resisted Zelenskyy’s calls for a no-fly zone, fearing it could deepen the crisis by forcing NATO forces into combat directly with the Russian army.

Melnyk said hearing Zelenskyy say “dear Canada” made him upbeat and sad.

“He addresses the US Congress in a few days in the same way. I hope it will have some impact because he is a great communicator,” he said.

“At the same time, I’m really sad that this guy is locked up in the nation’s capital, bracing for a massive onslaught and who knows if he’ll survive.”

The House of Commons was packed for the first time in two years as they watched the 44-year-old leader speak. Dozens of guests sat in the public galleries and most MPs took their seats in person. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it was about showing Canadian unity in support of Ukraine.

Yaroslav Broda, vice-president of the Edmonton branch of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, said he thought Zelenskyy’s speech effectively portrayed to Canadians what it is like to live in a war zone.

“He was trying to make it feel a little closer to home and trying to convey what Ukrainians, and even Ukrainian Canadian, feel,” Broda said.

Since the invasion, Broda said he has been browsing through photos he took during a visit to Ukraine a few years ago. Many places he visited were destroyed by Russian forces.

But Broda said he was grateful that Zelenskyy recognized the support of the Ukrainian diaspora in Canada.

“Everyone is trying to see how they can help and what they can do, even small things like a bottle drive,” he said. “I hope it can continue.”

Broda also noted that Russia banned more than 300 Canadians, including Trudeau, from entering the country on the same day as Zelenskyy’s speech.

“I think it shows that Canada has touched a nerve with Russia and I hope our parliamentarians will wear it as a badge of honour.”

Cassian Soltykevych, the national secretary of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, was in Parliament to watch over Zelenskyy.

“It was quite an emotional speech,” he said. “He got a standing ovation for several minutes after he finished. We’ll see what the feds do in the next few days.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on March 16, 2022.

This story was produced with financial assistance from Facebook and the Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Fakiha Baig and Daniela Germano, The Canadian Press