Members of Canberra’s Ukrainian community, and supporters from neighbouring countries, including a strong contingent of Lithuanians, protested outside the Embassy of The Russian Federation on Canberra Avenue this morning (25 February).
The protesters denounced the ongoing Russian aggression in Ukraine as Canberra’s Ukrainians try to spread their message loud and clear that this is an “unprovoked war”.
One of the organisers of the protest was Paul Trukhanov. He says it is important to note that this is not a war that began overnight.
“This war has been ongoing for eight years now because it actually started in 2014. My wife’s mother was unable to return home because she’s from Crimea and Crimea has been occupied by Russians since 2014. Since that time, she has lived with us here in Canberra,” Mr Trukhanov said.
“It’s never been any sort of serial conflict within Ukraine. It always was a war between Ukraine and Russia. Russia supplied the so-called Republics with a lot of weapons and they always had huge military contingents in this area.
“It always was the war between Ukraine and Russia and this is actually happening because Ukraine is breaking away towards the civilised world and Europe and NATO. That’s the main reason Putin has started with this aggression because he hates the Ukrainian people for looking for freedom.”
Passing on the stories told by his family and friends still in Ukraine, Mr Trukhanov paints a frightening picture.
“Currently, their message is that Kyiv is now being hit by ballistic missiles and people are trying to hide underground at metropolitan stations,” he said.
“They’re putting sticky tape on the windows to protect themselves from broken glass.”
While asserting that the Ukrainian soldiers have successfully prevented Russia from achieving some of the goals they set in the initial days of the invasion, he says that Russia is still winning the information war and that’s where he believes “ordinary people” can help.
“Russia is distributing a lot of fake news in the media that make people think differently about the real situation in Ukraine,” Mr Trukhanov said.
“What we as ordinary people can do, is just let everyone around us know about the real situation, what’s actually happening. This is unprovoked aggression. This is aggression for absolutely no reason.
“That’s what we’re trying to do. That’s what we are trying to achieve in our actions, during our rallies.”
As for what they’d like the Australian Government to do, he stressed how grateful Ukrainians were for Australia’s current support but urged them to do as much as they possibly could and encouraged more sanctions on Russia.
“As Scott Morrison said, Russia should pay the cost of their aggressive actions.”
Many protesters, including Larissa, could barely speak without breaking down when recounting the dangers their families are currently facing in Ukraine.
“What’s happening at the moment … I can’t even put it into words … it makes me pretty emotional,” Larissa said.
She said one family member had been evacuated to Poland, another remains in Kyiv and another is in Cherkasy in central Ukraine.
Those that haven’t fled yet are likely to remain as “leaving is not a possibility and they have family and homes and lives there, so it is quite difficult to leave”.
Ivan Slavich has family across Ukraine. He spoke to many members of his extended family last night and this morning and urged them to leave as soon as possible.
They told him it was too late.
“I said get out because my understanding is that Australia is expediting refugee visas for Ukrainians, and I said to them, ‘get out, get out now’. But they can’t. They said there’s no transport. All the roads are blocked. There’s literally military outside their doors,” Mr Slavich said.
“I told them, ‘go west, flee west’, and they can’t. I have relatives in Ukraine. It’s just awful.”