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Richmond's Ukrainian community on edge over "imminent Russian invasion"

Members of the Ukrainian Community Society of Ivan Franko are worried about their relatives in their homeland

“We are very concerned…and we absolutely believe that an invasion is imminent.”

Suffice to say, members of Richmond’s Ukrainian community are very much on edge, as they watch on TV and online the images of more and more Russian forces massing on the border of their eastern European homeland.

Tensions are high in the region, with reports of anything between 100,000 and 140,000 Russian troops lining the border with Ukraine, which was a part of the Soviet Union until independence in 1991.

In response, NATO, led by U.S. president Joe Biden, has been warning Russia it faces economic sanctions if it doesn’t back off, leading to fears around the globe of an all-out war being ignited.

From afar, it’s all very unnerving for the members of the Ukrainian Community Society of Ivan Franko, which has a community centre in Richmond, on Francis Road, close to Railway Avenue.

“This didn’t just happen in the last few months, this has been percolating since 2014,” said Canadian-born Eugene Lupynis, a director on the board at the society, whose parents emigrated from Ukraine in the ‘50s.

“Our community is very concerned. Most of us here have strong ties to Ukraine, be it family or culture.

“To see another nation bring 140,000 troops to our borders is very unsettling. We are worried for our brothers and sisters in Ukraine.

“I still have many cousins there. The majority of my father’s family still live there. We keep in regular contact through social media.”

Lupynis said the relatives he’s been keeping in touch with are “obviously very concerned and they’re ready to defend their homeland.

“We are trying to provide emotional and financial support where we can, but we feel sort of lost.

“As a community, we have lobbied Canada to provide as much military support as they can.

“And I have personally wrote to federal and provincial politicians to encourage them to help Ukraine.”

Lupynis told the Richmond News he doesn’t personally know anyone locally of Russian descent, but he gets the feeling they would oppose an invasion, adding that the two nations are “culturally very close.”

Rallies were held across Canada on Sunday in support of Ukraine, including one in Queen Elizabeth Park in Vancouver.

Despite the escalating tension between Russia and Ukraine and its allies, there is still hope diplomacy can be reached, despite Biden saying this week that a gas pipeline from Germany to Russia would be blocked if the Russians invade Ukraine.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin retorted that the U.S. and its allies are the only ones talking invasion.

Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron met for more than five hours in Moscow this week, as Biden and new German Chancellor Olaf Scholz spoke at the White House in efforts to defuse the crisis before armed conflict breaks out.

The White House has expressed increasing alarm about the prospects of war, and Biden has been looking to solidify support among European allies for economy-jarring sanctions against Russia if it attacks.

Putin noted that the U.S. and NATO have ignored Moscow’s demands that the alliance guarantee it will keep Ukraine and other ex-Soviet nations out, that they refrain from placing weapons in Ukraine and roll back alliance forces from Eastern Europe.

He, too, signaled his readiness to continue negotiations and denied anew that Russia has any intention of invading Ukraine.

With files from the Canadian Press