SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 11, 2005
With their homeland in political crisis after the dismissal last week of the prime minister and her government, thousands of Ukrainians in Montreal yesterday celebrated a happier time - their country's independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
"People are asking the question: what is happening in Ukraine?" the country's ambassador to Canada, Mykola Maimeskul, said after addressing a crowd at Ukraine Park in Rosemont.
He was referring to President Viktor Yushchenko's firing Thursday of the government led by Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, only seven months after the two allies were swept to power in the country's pro-Western "Orange Revolution."
"Let's not dramatize, though," Mameskul said while a marching band played on an outdoor stage behind him.
"The president made a radical but necessary decision. Nothing changes, just the mechanism of government. We are still headed to integration with Europe, with NATO," Maimeskul said.
But Thursday's unexpected development was troubling to other Ukrainians in the crowd, including a group of 22 high-school exchange students from Kiev who arrived here just as the news broke.
"I was shocked, really, when I read it in the newspaper," said Dasha Rachok, 14. "It was very unexpected. I hope the new government will be better than the old one. I'm full of hope."
Steve Andrusiak, an ex-Montrealer of Ukrainian origin, came from his home in London, Ont, to attend yesterday's festivities.
"The changes in Ukraine are about integrity and keeping the promises of "the Orange Revolution," he said as two black-robed priests, one Catholic and the other Orthodox, offered a prayer for their homeland from the stage.
"Maybe the president just felt that he had to do something to stop all the bickering (in the government), or maybe he got bad information and was unwise to do what he did," said Andrusiak, an ex-CBC journalist turned academic.
"It's a good debate. I don't think it divides us; it unites us in our concern for the country."
Nearby in the shadow of St. Sophie Cathedral at Bellechasse St. and 12th Ave., people in traditional embroidered shirts and blouses lined up at lunch stands offering Old World traditional foods - verenikies and pierogis (potato dumplings), sausages, sauerkraut and paczki (doughnuts).
In the bright sunshine of a perfect end-of-summer Montreal day, faraway politics weren't uppermost in their minds. But it didn't take much prodding to bring the subject out in the open.
At a "korchma" refreshment stand run by members of Zustrich ("greeting," in English), an organization for new Ukrainian immigrants, Mykola Kulishov said the turmoil of the past year has had a positive result.
It has raised Canadians' consciousness of Ukraine and the 1,072,000 people of Ukrainian descent who live in this country, including the 20,000 residing in Montreal.
"The media didn't pay much attention to us before, a country of 50 million people, and when they did it was all pretty negative," said Kulishov, 49, who came here in 1994 and was one of Canada's official observers of the election last December that toppled the former pro-Russian regime.
"Now I believe we must celebrate as a diaspora that has its own country now, that is free, that is fun, and that can attract people of other nations who want to visit and see what we have."
© The Gazette (Montreal) 2005