Published September 23, 2023

Zelenskyy greets cheering crowd of supporters in Toronto

Zelenskyy Canada visit - CP

By Maan Alhmidi in Toronto

A large crowd of members of the Ukrainian community and politicians welcomed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his wife, Olena Zelenska, with a standing ovation when they walked into a Canadian Armed Forces facility in Toronto on Friday night.

Zelenskyy, who is in Canada for the first time since Russian troops began a full-scale assault on Ukraine in February 2022, greeted the crowd with “Slava Ukraini,” a national salute that means glory to Ukraine.

About 1,000 people gathered in the Fort York Armoury to show support, including a group of students and teachers from St. Demetrius Ukrainian school who responded to Zelenskyy’s salute by singing the Ukrainian anthem. Others in attendance were singing along and waving Ukrainian and Canadian flags.

Vira Kalinova, a mother of two students at St. Demetrius, attended the event wearing a traditional Ukrainian shirt with her son. Kalinova said she was glad to see people showing support by singing the Ukrainian national anthem. 

"The fact that the whole community came up together to sing it together, it's just heartwarming. It brings me to tears," she said. 

"It's so nice to see it, so many people came out to support us."

Kalinova said it's hard for her and other Ukrainian Canadians to reconcile the fact that they are living in a safe place here in Canada while their family members and loved ones are suffering while fighting against the Russian invasion. 

"(We are) living here in peace and quiet, but we're doing all we can to support families back home," she said.  

Zelenskyy, who arrived at the venue accompanied by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Chrystia Freeland, deputy prime minister and minister of finance, said he was happy to hear the Ukrainian anthem in Canada.

"I'm so proud to hear it in Canada," he said. "It's so inspiring and it's not just inspiring to others, it helps us to become stronger."

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow, several federal ministers and members of Parliament, as well as other Ontario mayors were among the politicians in attendance.

Zelenskyy thanked Canada for the ongoing support to his country, which he said would help the Ukrainian people defend their land and eventually win the war. 

"The day will come when we gather at a similar place in Ukraine, many people, millions, cheering crowds, blue and yellow flags and Maple Leaf flags," he said to the cheering crowd. 

"Whole Ukraine will say, thank you ... Canada."

Uliana Hlynchak, who was at the event, said Zelenskyy has become a symbol for Ukrainian resistance.  

"He's basically a symbol of Ukrainian soldiers and people who are fighting just to defend their home," she said. 

She said the ongoing war has affected Ukrainian people around the world. 

"Ukrainians are emotional every day because we know what's happening in Ukraine, so many people died, so many people crippled this place, captured in Russian prisons," she said.

"Since we started, we don't sleep ... it's been an emotional roller-coaster, but we are trying to stay strong, because we need to give Ukraine all the support it needs as the Ukrainian community."

Trudeau said Canada has supported Ukraine with almost $9 billion and will continue to provide support until it wins the war.

"The cost on Canadians, on our lives, on our world will be so much greater if (Russian President Vladimir) Putin wins this war," he said. "We will, and have to, stand every day until Ukraine win this war."

Prior to the event at the Fort York Armoury, Trudeau and Zelenskyy, along with Freeland, attended a roundtable with business leaders including CEOs from Canada's largest banks, to discuss how Canadian businesses can invest in Ukraine during and after the war to help the country rebuild its economy and infrastructure.

Earlier Friday, the Ukrainian president thanked Canada and Canadians during an address to Parliament in Ottawa for standing with his country and his people in the war against Russia.

Speaking ahead of Zelenskyy, Trudeau announced that Canada was extending its financial aid to Ukraine with a $650-million commitment to give the country more predictable and stable support over the next three years.

Canada has already contributed more than $8 billion in support to Ukraine, including providing air defence systems, armoured vehicles and artillery shells, and training of Ukrainian soldiers, among other commitments.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 23, 2023.

Banner image via The Canadian Press

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