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New Brunswick couple with ties to Ukraine weighs in on conflict a year later


Friday marks one year since Russia attacked Ukraine. The country is marking the sombre anniversary by remembering the lives lost to the war, while still waiting for peace.

At a ceremony in Kyiv Friday morning, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy recognized families who lost their loved ones.

Security measures are heightened across Ukraine. Schools have moved online, and people are being urged to work home. Patrols have been stepped up over fears of widespread Russian attacks.

A Maritime couple who has been back and forth from Ukraine sat down with CTV Atlantic’s Todd Battis Thursday evening to discuss the violence that’s plagued the country over the last 12 months.

Varvara Pakhomenko, a conflict analyst working on the Ukraine conflict, recently returned from overseas.

She says things have changed since she last visited.

“The difference is that people are getting used to the war,” she said. “People are getting acceptance that it is not going to be over anytime soon, and build our lives accordingly.”

Pakhomenko says she spent a few weeks in Moldova, a neighbouring country to Ukraine.

She says the country has suffered many economic effects of the war, and received about 100,000 refugees, including many who plan to stay in Moldova permanently.

“Even in the poorest country in Europe, they prefer to come there, not to go back, because there is electricity, there are schools working, and we can see how people now are thinking how to build their life accordingly with a long, dragging, atrocious war,” she adds.

Pakhomenko and her husband Donald Bowser, the founder of the Ukraine Recovery Initiative, live in New Brunswick.

She says when they go to the grocery store or the mall, she hears Russian and Ukrainian languages spoken quite often.

“That was not the case half a year ago,” she says. “So now we can see how more and more people are arriving daily.

She believes that refugees who moved their families to Canada during the last 12 months are likely planning to stay and settle in the country.

“What we say initially, many tried to keep their kids on the online learning with Ukrainian schools, now they switched, they try to switch and once the kid goes to a school, especially learning in a foreign language for a year, it is much harder to adapt and adjust back to the curriculum back in Ukraine,” says Pakhomenko.

When the war started, Bowser, who is an anti-corruption specialist, started an initiative where he physically took gear into Ukraine with whoever he could find to join him. He was also raising money online to help with the project. 

Bowser says the primary concern a year ago was delivering non-lethal military assistance to Ukrainian units.

“A year later, it is very much moved on. My focus is currently on the humanitarian side, simply because that’s where the greatest need is. NATO-allied countries and Ukraine have been able to supply the Ukrainian Army, there are some needs, but it’s quite a bit less in terms than it was of basic equipment, so the focus is on the humanitarian side,” he explains.

“It looks like both sides are convinced they can win this war on the battlefield and continue immobilizing resources,” adds Pakhomenko, commenting on U.S. President Joe Biden’s recent visit to Kyiv, as Vladimir Putin holds rallies in Russia.

“So we see how, first of all, manpower, immobilization, is going on in both Ukraine and Russia, how both sides try to get more weapons and more ammunition. And if Ukraine gets it from the western partners, Russia has not such a big selection of partners, it’s been Iran, which mainly discussed, now there is talks with China, if they can support Russia or not. But yes, we see that most likely for the next foreseeable future, months, maybe half a year, it’s going to be fighting alongside the existing frontlines, very active with a lot of artillery with a lot of missiles, which will lead to a lot of civilian victims. That’s what we’ll see.”

Pakhomenko says Putin’s speech two days ago had two main points:

“That the war has become normal, that it’s a part of everyday life, that going to fight is a normal job, where you can take vacation from and get the social benefits, and then as part of it, it was all about the west. It was just so hostile over the west, that level of hostility in Putin’s speech. So he tried to make clear, that we are fighting with the west, we broke down with the west completely, so Ukraine is just an episode,” she explains.

“Did somehow the west force Russia to invade Ukraine? It’s a war of aggression from Russia. The solution to this is for Russia to leave Ukrainian territory, it’s just that simple,” Bowser adds.

“If Russia wants the war to end, they can go home. There is no one keeping them there except for themselves. So they’ve launched a war of aggression that only has a military solution now. What compromise can there be after the thousands of civilians that Russia has killed? There is no other solution than a military one. And it’s very simple, if Russia wants peace, all they have to do is leave Ukraine. And then they would have the peace that they want.”

Bowser says trying to frame this as a proxy war implies that somehow, somebody forced Russia to invade Ukraine, which he calls “nonsense.” He says there were no security threats to Russia.

“And yet in 2014 they invaded Ukraine and in 2008 they invaded Georgia, so if you don’t want your neighbours to be worried about you as a security threat – stop invading them,” says Bowser. “So it’s all relatively simple things, everything is in Russia’s hand. If they want peace they can have peace tomorrow.” Top Stories

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