THE GREEN LINE
How the Ukrainian Diaspora in Toronto is experiencing the war
BY ALEX VAROUTAS
AND GARY-JOSEPH PANGANIBAN
April 29, 2022
"[MY] MAIN FOCUS WAS TO GET MY FAMILY OUT."
"For me, to wake up [one day] to the sound of a bomb dropping was pretty shocking," Sergiy Slipchenko, a 24-year-old Ukrainian-Canadian, says.
From September 2021 until the war broke out in February, Slipchenko was living in Kyiv with his wife and two children. He says it happened just when they started feeling settled in their new home: The family had an apartment, his daughters were making friends in daycare and he enjoyed reporting about life in the capital for The Kyiv Independent.
The family left Kyiv by car before making their way southwest towards the border. From there, they crossed into Moldova by foot and have since moved back to Vaughan (their family lived in Toronto for 15 years before moving to Kyiv). Explaining the war to his kids was one of the challenges of relocating to Canada, Slipchenko adds.
While Slipchenko's younger daughter didn't understand why they were forced to flee, his older daughter could sense their anxiety.
"She's like, 'When can we go back home? I want to go home. I want to go to my bed. I want to go to my toys. I want to see my friends in daycare," Slipchenko recalls.
"We have to just explain, 'You know, there's a fire in the city. We can't go back right now.' That's kind of the best way we could expain it."
35-year-old Oksana Tzareva — whose name has been changed for her family's safety — is a Russian-Torontonian on seeing Russian people who are in support of the war.
Tzareva is originally from Vladivostok, a city in the southeastern portion of Russia, close to China and North Korea. She cites living under a corrupt government with no form of recourse as the main reason she decided to move to Canada in 2010.
"Sometimes I feel powerless being here and watching what's happening," Tzareva says. "I feel like I would have been on the streets protesting [if I still lived in Russia]."
Most disheartening for her is seeing Russian peers support the war. The dangers of speaking out, combined with the lack of free press, make it hard for many Russians to get an accurate picture of what's happening.
Khrystyna Riantzantseva, 29, is a Ukrainian-Torontonian photographer. She moved to Canada to study, and decided to settle in downtown Toronto three years ago. With a lot of her family and friends still in Ukraine, she's been following the crisis in her homeland closely.
"I have lots of friends in Odessa and Kyiv, and it's tough [for them]," she says. "Even when it's quiet — no bombardments, no shooting — there's still lots of stress and anxiety."
Riantzantseva worries for her loved ones and is in constant contact with them, but following the war from Toronto gives her mixed feelings. Although it's tough for her to see the war unfold, Riantzantseva says she feels guilty that she's not in Ukraine.
"You feel proud — you are happy that we are helping...Ukraine," Riantzantseva said. "But at the same time, you feel guilty that you are not there — that you are safe here — and they are hiding from bombs in Ukraine."
Jennifer Hyndman, a York University professor at the faculty of environmental and urban change, on the common thread among different diasporas in Toronto.
Hyndman explains that Toronto is unique because many people who settle in the city from another place have similar experiences of fleeing conflict.
Although people in the midst of these conflicts are often preoccupied with survival and escape, diasporic communities in places like Toronto can feel a sense of obligation to speak out when those being impacted by crisis are unable to, according to Hyndman.
"You feel the solidarity across tens of thousands of kilometres even though you may not know the people being affected," she says.
Hyndman would like to see Canada apply this "gold standard" to similar situations for all diasporic communities in Toronto.
"We have to really do some soul searching, and make sure that if this is what we offer to Ukrainians, then this should be what we should offer to others who are in equally desperate straits," she says.
Statistics Canada data from 2016 says this country is home to over 1.3 million Ukrainian-Canadians.
Hyndman says the large and established Ukrainian diaspora here has played a role in Canada's response to the refugee crisis. She hopes that Ukrainians who come to Canada are assisted by the federal government, but highlights the discrepancies between Canada's quick response to the Ukrainian refugee crisis and how poorly it handled the Afghanistan refugee crisis in August 2021.
Hyndman says that diasporic guilt can also be a powerful resource among diasporic communities.
"It allows people to send money, to...perhaps, even just connect with family members who made it to Poland or are maybe on their way to Moldova or whatever it may be," she said.
"It activates people who might have been feeling neutral or not paying attention," she continued. "You don't have to be Ukrainian to be paying attention to any paticular nationality."
In many ways, our "good fortune" and security in a place like Toronto is what allows us to support those affected by the war, Hyndman said.
BY ALEX VAROUTAS & GARY-JOSEPH PANGANIBAN
FOR THE GREEN LINE
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