A large crowd gathered outside Clarence-Rockland city hall March 20 to support Ukraine’s resistance of Russian invasion. Following the Canadian and Ukrainian national anthems and a moment of silence, Ghostbusters Clarence-Rockland co-founder Jake Sopiro invited speakers to say a few words about the war. MP Francis Drouin was first.
“I’ve been lucky enough to be your representative for the past six years, and never in my lifetime would I have thought that we would be gathered here because of a tyrant by the name of Vladimir Putin who illegally invaded Ukraine,” Drouin said. “I stand here every November 11 for Remembrance Day across the riding, and we always repeat those words: Never again, or Never We Shall Forget.
“From time to time, tyrants test our democracy. The role the media is playing, the images we’ve seen across the world, are so important, but did you know that right now in Russia, media are not even allowed to say the word ‘war’. It’s banned,” he said. “And so, I want to thank the community for hosting this today, I think it’s important. Slava Ukraini, glory to Ukraine. Merci.”
Clarence-Rockland Mayor Mario Zanth was next to speak. He described Canadian journalist Luc Chenier’s speech at a recent Francophonie awards banquet: “He described what we are so lucky here in Canada to never have to go through, and that is to pack up your entire life into a few suitcases and flee a country because an oppressor, a dictator, is bombing,” said Zanth. “That is something that, as Francis said, we would have never thought that we might see in this lifetime anymore.”
“He also mentioned…” Zanth said, “…Kyiv is something that [Chenier] resembles as Montreal. I want you to understand what it would be like if Montreal was bombed, what it would be like if an entire nation such as Ukraine was now displaced. You’re leaving your pets behind, you’re leaving your home, your family, you don’t know where you’re going. That’s what’s happening at this very moment in Ukraine, and we are limited in what we can do but our voices will never be silenced.”
Andris Kesteris stepped forward to speak for the Latvian community, as well as the Latvian National Federation, the Baltic Federation, and the Central and Eastern European Council.
“We know why we’re here,” he said. “We no longer can ignore the fact that this is World War Three. This is an attack on all of us, an attack on Ukraine which is fighting a battle for us. The war is going against all of our communities, we feel it here in Canada as well. There’s a disinformation campaign attacking us and our communities, trying to divide us, undermine us, and we have to stay strong together. We know that what’s going on is a fantastic crime against humanity. These are atrocious war crimes, but we will win, we will all win together. Ukraine will win, and the world will be the better for it.”
Sopiro then retook the podium and closed out the rally with his own speech, choked with emotion.
“We will fight to the end. We will not give up; we will not lose. We will fight to the end at sea, in the air. We will continue to fight for our land, whatever the cost. President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy,” Sopiro quoted. “These words spoken by the president of Ukraine echoes the words spoken by another leader of a nation, a nation that also was fighting for its survival and its existence. A nation that endured the horrors of war. A nation that Canada answered the call to help defend, as did the world.”
“Over 80 years ago, we saw an evil man rise to power and influence every aspect of life in his home country. This evil and vile man would plunge the world into the Second World War. The world witnessed unthinkable horrors, death and destruction the likes of which had never been seen before. A war so destructive and costly in human lives that the world together said, ‘Never Again.”
“Yet 80 years later, we are witnessing the same thing. The invasion of a free and sovereign nation. The destruction of villages and towns and cities. Indiscriminate bombings of civilians. The shootings of civilians fleeing from the fighting. Journalists shot and killed in the street for filming the truth, for trying to show the world the horrors of what’s happening. Women and children’s bodies lying in the streets of Ukraine, or buried under the rubble of buildings they thought were safe to hide in. Families torn apart, mothers and fathers staying and sending their children away to fight an invading army. Heartbreaking images of children walking miles alone with other refugees to get to safety because their families are gone. Cultural and historic treasures wiped from existence or stolen by an invading army.”
“The world has seen it before and is seeing it again, and once again it is the doings of an evil man. But we, we are not powerless. Putin has made a serious error. He has underestimated the bravery of the Ukrainian people. He has been surprised by the determination of the people of Ukraine to defend their lands and their democracy. He is shocked and he is outraged by the fierce resistance put up by the Ukrainian army, and by everyday citizens, and by tens of thousands of citizens going to Ukraine to join the fight for freedom and democracy. He is surprised by the Ukrainian people’s will to stand up against the same mentality and tyranny that once suppressed them and other nations under the Soviet Union. He has also underestimated the free world. He has underestimated Canada, our allies, and our partners who are currently helping Ukraine.”
“But we must do more. Each one of us standing here today has a gift, a gift that was paid for in blood. The blood of Canadians and our allies. Blood spilled on the beaches of Normandy, blood spilled in the fields and cities of Europe, blood spilled on the oceans and in the skies. We stand here today united, enjoying our gift of freedom, freedom paid for by the lives and sacrifices of good people standing up against evil. Freedom is a gift that no Russian can currently enjoy under the dictatorship of Putin. We speak the truth and can express our desires today to stop the war.”
“In Russia they cannot do that. To speak words of war, or invasion, or death will land you in jail, or worse. Thousands of ordinary Russian citizens have stood up against the propaganda and the aggression of Putin. Many of those brave Russians are now facing consequences of a brutal tyrant. We stand here united in our condemnation of Putin’s brutal war, free to assemble and express our opinions and desires for this senseless and pointless war to end.”
“Our freedom is a gift, a gift that evil men like Putin fear because with freedom comes power. Everyone here today has the power to help Ukraine in our own individual ways. We all have skills and talents and can work collectively to make a difference. It took us a few phone calls, a few emails, and the use of social media, and look at us, we are all gathered here today. We all have a platform or a way to use our talents to gather and express our opinions.”
“The Ukrainians are not just fighting for their country. Ukraine is also fighting for the free world, fighting a war that should not have happened in this day and age. A war that has the potential to once again plunge this world into darkness and terror. This war must end. Slava Ukraini, glory to Ukraine, and thank you all for coming here today.”