Looking Back at 2019

Marco Levytsky, Editorial Writer.

2019 has been a tumultuous year for both Ukraine and our community here in Canada. There have been highs and lows, gains and losses and we can look forward to the future with both apprehension and hope.

January 6, Julian Christmas Eve was a day of both joy and sorrow. On the one hand, it marked the official proclamation of the Tomos granting the Orthodox Church of Ukraine that long-sought and well-deserved independence from Moscow. Not only did this correct an historic injustice by reversing the 1686 transfer of the Orthodox Church of Kyiv and all Rus’ from the jurisdiction of Constantinople to the Patriarch of Moscow, established a century prior to that, but it set the stage for the free growth of a Ukrainian church dedicated to God and concerned with the welfare of the Ukrainian people and not subject to state control by a belligerent and dictatorial foreign power.

On the other hand, that same day marked the passing of one of the greatest and most effective elected representatives of the Ukrainian community in Canada – former Cabinet Minister and Speaker of the Alberta Legislature, Gene Zwozdesky. Throughout a political career that spanned 22 years, Zwozdesky championed initiatives that benefitted our community. He organized two trade missions to Ukraine for Premier Ralph Klein, initiated the Advisory Council on Alberta-Ukraine Relations as well as Memorandums of Understanding between the Province of Alberta and the Oblasts of Lviv and Ivano-Frankivsk. But the initiative he considered to be his most important was the introduction and unanimous passage of the Holodomor Bill in October 2008 – an achievement which took 10 years of work. Even after retiring from political life in 2015, Zwozdesky continued with his life of service as a dedicated volunteer. His last major project was spearheading the national celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada.

As Winter turned to Spring, Ukrainians headed to the polls to elect a new President. A political neophyte, who based his campaign upon the fictional character he played in the television series “Servant of the People”, Volodymyr Zelenskyy coasted to an unprecedented 73% landslide victory over incumbent President Petro Poroshenko, on promises of reform. He followed up his triumph in the presidential race with yet another unprecedented success in parliamentary elections three months later, as his “Servant of the People” Party won an absolute majority in the Verkhovna Rada – the first time any political party had been able to achieve such success in the brief history of independent Ukraine.

Zelenskyy now has extraordinary political power and how this will affect the future of the country remains to be determined. There have been some positive signs including his battle with corruption and the successful exchange of prisoners of war with the Russian Federation, but also some disturbing developments including his ties to oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky, and what appears to be a politically motivated judicial attack on former President Poroshenko.

Meanwhile, in Canada, electors chastised Prime Minister Justin Trudeau by reducing his parliamentary majority to a minority, but stopped short of changing the government itself. Nevertheless, the election exposed some very deep divisions within the country – especially on the Prairies where the ruling Liberals were totally blanked in Alberta and Saskatchewan. This prompted Trudeau to elevate his most accomplished minister, Chrystia Freeland, to the position of Deputy Prime Minister – a special post not all Prime Ministers choose to fill. (The last person to hold this position, for just over two years ending in February 2006, was Anne McLennan during the term of Prime Minister Paul Martin Jr.).

Chrystia Freeland is very proud of her Ukrainian heritage. As Minister of Foreign Affairs, she was not only very effective in ensuring Canada’s continued and unwavering support for Ukraine, but was equally effective on the world stage. She has punched far above her weight in such international forums like the G-7 and NATO. Her elevation to the post of Deputy Prime Minister is of great benefit to the entire Ukrainian Canadian community and yet another example of how far we have come. This newspaper has even dubbed her as a Prime Minister-in Waiting as she stands out as the most logical successor to Trudeau as Liberal leader. Interestingly enough, the opposition Conservatives may pick a woman of Ukrainian origin as their leader even sooner, as Rona Ambrose is being touted as a possible successor to Andrew Scheer who has resigned his position.

On the negative side, the last quarter of 2019 saw a number of media attacks on the Ukrainian community aimed at falsely tarring us with the “Nazi” label. First came a grossly distorted PostMedia story about a commemoration ceremony held in Sambir to honour both Jewish and Ukrainian victims of Nazis, which attempted to present this event as a conflict between the two groups instead of the cooperative initiative that it was. This was followed by a hateful Facebook post by a University of Alberta lecturer who claimed the Holodomor was a lie invented by the Nazis. Next, the Edmonton Jewish News printed a story which claimed UPA Supreme Commander Roman Shukhevych was a participant in the genocide of the Jews. These hate-based smears and historical fabrications targetted at Ukraine and the Ukrainian Canadian community culminated in an act of vandalism considered a hate crime by Edmonton police. They clearly demonstrate that Russian propaganda is relentless and that we must remain vigilant in exposing lies and bringing the truth to the attention of the Canadian public.

And so, as we look back at the year gone by and look forward to the year just beginning, let us maintain a positive attitude and redouble our efforts to both raise our effectiveness as a community within the Canadian mosaic, and provide even greater support to our brothers and sisters in Ukraine fighting against Russian military aggression and endemic corruption, while continuing their struggle to build a democratic, just, European-oriented, and vibrant civil society capable of providing a better life for themselves and their children.

Thus, we wish all our readers a Happy New Year, Glory to Ukraine and rejoice in the Birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

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