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“Slava Ukraini”: In downtown Toronto, thousands protest Russian invasion of Ukraine

Chrystia Freeland, John Tory, and Margaret Atwood among rally attendees
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Content warning: This article contains descriptions of war. 

On February 27, thousands rallied in downtown Toronto to protest the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The crowd gathered at Yonge-Dundas Square before marching to Nathan Phillips Square. One group of protesters carried a large blue and yellow flag through the streets. Others held signs criticizing Russian president Vladimir Putin and demanding the protection of Ukrainian airspace. 

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland was one of the people at the forefront of the march and took the stage at Nathan Phillips Square to address the crowd. “Over the past few days, the whole world has seen how remarkable Ukraine is — how remarkable the Ukrainian people are,” she said.

She also referred to Ukraine as “the battleground in the world between democracy and dictatorship.” This fight, she said, determines whether the post-WWII international order will stand. 

“I am so proud that Canada sent lethal aid to Ukraine before this war started. And we, with our allies, are going to continue supporting that Ukrainian war effort,” she told the crowd. 

The president of the Ukrainian-Canadian Congress, Alexandra Chyczij, was among the rally’s other speakers. 

“We need to protect the beautiful blue skies of Ukraine. We need to keep the machines of death out — those that rain down bombs on civilian populations… NATO must declare and enforce a no-fly zone,” she said. Her statement was met with cheers from the crowd. 

Other notable attendees at the march included Toronto mayor John Tory and author Margaret Atwood.

 

At Yonge-Dundas Square, a Ukranian child holds a sign pleading not to be shot or bombed. The United Nations has recorded a total of 752 casualties in Ukraine due to the Russian invasion, including scores of children. JADINE NGAN/THE VARSITY

One protester, Chantal McDonald-Stovin, offers blue and yellow felt hearts to members of the crowd, helping tie them to people’s sleeves. JADINE NGAN/THE VARSITY

As the march begins moving west down Dundas Street, some protesters hold the edges of a large Ukrainian flag in their gloved hands. JADINE NGAN/THE VARSITY

Ukrainian-Canadians are not the only ones at the march: a variety of protesters — including communities from Latvia, Hong Kong, and Georgia — fly flags and hold signs in solidarity with Ukraine. JADINE NGAN/THE VARSITY

A young protester, with the words “NO WAR” written across their face, waves a Ukrainian flag as the crowd listens to speeches at Nathan Phillips Square. JADINE NGAN/THE VARSITY

Midway through the afternoon, snow begins to fall, accumulating on the large Ukrainian flag that dozens of people hold aloft in front of the speakers’ stage. JADINE NGAN/THE VARSITY

Many protesters’ flags and signs contain the trident, or ‘tryzub’ — a Ukrainian symbol of national unity that dates back to the Rurik dynasty of the tenth to twelfth centuries. It became the state coat of arms in 1918, just after the Russian empire collapsed. JADINE NGAN/THE VARSITY

Some protesters of Russian descent, like these two, hold signs expressing support for Ukraine and a desire for peace. JADINE NGAN/THE VARSITY

“Slava Ukraini,” which means “Glory to Ukraine,” is a popular rallying cry for the marchers. Underneath those words, this protester’s sign also contains text that translates to “glory to the heroes.” JADINE NGAN/THE VARSITY

Ukrainians and their allies are demanding that NATO “shelter” Ukrainian skies by enforcing a no-fly zone over Ukraine. Enforcing a no-fly zone would entail military engagement with any Russian aircraft in Ukrainian airspace — an act that would be, as one former US air force general put it, “tantamount to war.” JADINE NGAN/THE VARSITY

Some protesters’ signs emphasize the direness of the situation in Ukraine. JADINE NGAN/THE VARSITY

As the event comes to a close, two protesters stand against the backdrop of City Hall, raising smoke bombs in the colours of the Ukrainian flag. JADINE NGAN/THE VARSITY

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