Students and community members from Queen’s University and St. Lawrence College (SLC) met on the evening of Monday, Feb. 28, 2022, both in person and virtually at Queen’s to discuss supports available for Ukrainian students living here in Kingston.
More than 50 students attended the event in person and more than 30 attended virtually.
Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson, current NDP MPP for Kingston and the Islands, Ian Arthur, and former Liberal MPP for the riding, Sophie Kiwala, also attended the event. Member of Parliament for Kingston and the Islands, Mark Gerretsen, and President of Ukrainian Canadian Congress, Alexandra Chyczij, joined virtually to support and speak with students about available help and resources.
Chyczij shed light on several hate crimes in Canada towards the Ukrainian community and asked for measures to address those. She also said that RT News Russia, a Russian news outlet, must be blocked, as the programs and content on the channel are feeding hatred in the community.
“I can’t even imagine what you must be going through right now; I just want you to know that you’re not alone, and you have an entire community that is standing with you right now,” Mayor Paterson said addressing the Ukrainian students in attendance. “We gather here, [so] we can show our support for democracy, we can show our support for the freedom, we can show support for Ukraine and our fellow citizens and students here at Queen’s or St Lawrence College.”
“We want to make sure that our hearts and our minds and our efforts are always with people in Ukraine. We need to be in this together and make sure that not only are they (Russians) pushed back this time, but that this never happens again,” said MPP Arthur.
MP Gerretsen joined virtually from Parliament Hill, and echoed the sentiments of Paterson and Arthur, while also voicing his opinion on the current Russian-Ukrainian conflict.
“We’re devastated by what’s going on in Ukraine right now. It is an absolute tragedy. In my opinion Vladimir Putin is a bully, he’s a monster,” said Gerretsen, who also praised the remarkable leadership in Ukraine and the Ukrainian people for how they are defending themselves against one of the biggest military forces in the world.
Queen’s students Taissa Martschenko and Katrina Korotky, and Professor of Political Geography at Royal Military College of Canada (RMC), Lubomyr Luciuk, organized the event to show solidarity and share more details with Ukrainian students.
Professor Luciuk hosted the event, emphasizing the importance of discussing and learning about what is happening in Ukraine, but also remembering to lean on each other to support your local fellow Ukrainians.
“I’m a professor, so [first] I’m going to say this: study hard. Your parents sent you to Canada to study to get an education to become better Ukrainians, so keep the faith and be the best student,” said Luciuk.
He then spoke about measures like claiming refugee status through the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada for students who are cut off from their families back in Ukraine and are unsure of what their future holds. Students who are eligible can apply for refugee protection under the definition of ‘convention refugee and need protection,’ Luciuk explained. Under that status, some claimants can become eligible for government support, including financial and medical aid. The following day, Tuesday, Mar. 1, 2022, the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada announced they would be prioritizing the pending files of Ukrainians.
Luciuk also mentioned that those on student visas need not worry, as those visas are likely to be extended. Those on a visitor visa can try to apply for an expedited work visa to stay longer in Canada, he said, and to help with this process, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) has set up a bank of lawyers who will work for free to help students make a refugee claim.
In Kingston, many people have shown interest in supporting the Ukrainian community both financially and emotionally. According to Laura Caldwell, International Student Advisor at St. Lawrence College, a community fund is in the process of being be established by Queen’s and St. Lawrence College to help channel funding to students in need. Many Kingston residents have also stated they are willing to house Ukrainian students for free as the crisis continues, those in attendance heard.
The Kingston Ukrainian Students’ Foundation is another local fundraiser currently being created to allow donations to become directly available to students that are from Ukraine. The fundraiser will be up and running in a simplified format within the next few days, but is accepting donations for the cause now.
Other organizations currently collecting donations for those affected by the ongoing crisis in Ukraine include SUSK National (a Ukrainian Canadian students’ union which Queen’s and SLC belong to), the Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal (organized by the Canadian Ukrainian Foundation & the UCC, and through the Canadian Red Cross), SaveLife, Territory of Kindness, The Voices of Children Foundation, Razom for Ukraine, Caritas Ukraine, the Ukrainian Crisis Media Center, the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, and People In Need.
According to the Kingston and the Islands MP, anyone in Kingston who is worried about their residency in Canada due to the unrest in Ukraine, including those with student visas, can reach out to Gerretsen’s office at 841 Princess Street for help and resources, or contact him directly at [email protected], or by calling 613-542-3243.
World leaders have condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin for launching his offensive on Ukraine that has reportedly killed hundreds of civilians since it began on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022. The international community, including Canada, has put extreme sanctions on Russia and are calling for an end to their acts of aggression.
Here in Kingston, public demonstrations in support of Ukraine began with the #StandWithUkraine movement on Sunday, Feb. 6, 2022. Professor Luciuk initially expressed shock and disappointment after Russia crossed over the Ukrainian border, and the larger Kingston community responded by organizing a prayer rally on Monday, Feb. 28, 2022.