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News | Montrealers in solidarity with Nadiya Savchenko

Incarcerated politician and pilot a “symbol of Ukraine”

On the evening of March 8, roughly a hundred members of Montreal’s Ukrainian community gathered in Phillips Square to stand in solidarity with Nadiya Savchenko, a Ukrainian politician and military pilot who has been incarcerated in Russia since 2014, when she was captured by pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine. Accused by the Russian government of killing two journalists, she has vehemently asserted her innocence, and was reported to be on a hunger strike last week.

Protesters began arriving in the square shortly before 6 p.m., carrying Ukrainian flags and placards expressing support for Savchenko. After roughly half an hour of mingling and discussion, prominent members of the Montreal Ukrainian community gave a series of speeches, praising Savchenko’s defiant attitude toward her captors, and calling for her release.

Karina Grinenko, who addressed the crowd in Ukrainian, explained that she had been a volunteer in the same unit as Savchenko during the summer of 2014. This unit, the Aidar Battalion, has a history of links to the far right, and has been accused of human rights violations by Amnesty International.

According to Grinenko, Savchenko joined the Aidar Battalion in May as a volunteer after having been turned down three times for missions to territory illegally occupied by Russia as a pilot.

“They were freed, but the group Nadiya was a part of was still in captivity. During the following month most of the combatants were released, but one of them was killed in the basement of a Luhansk prison, and Nadiya was taken to Russian territory by the end of June.”

“A month later, on June 17, she was captured while trying to help a group of military agents. They were freed, but the group Nadiya was a part of was still in captivity. During the following month most of the combatants were released, but one of them was killed in the basement of a Luhansk prison, and Nadiya was taken to Russian territory by the end of June,” Grinenko said.

Oksana Gerych, who also gave her speech in Ukrainian, highlighted Savchenko’s importance both as an individual and a nationalist symbol.

“Nadiya Savchenko can be said to be a symbol of Ukraine: […] unbreakable, patriotic, strong, confident, and stubborn, who, not with words but with actions, said that she would fight until the very end. We would very much not want this end to come for her, and to lose her. […] So we are here so that she lives,” Gerych said.

“Nadiya Savchenko can be said to be a symbol of Ukraine: […] unbreakable, patriotic, strong, confident, and stubborn, who, not with words but with actions, said that she would fight until the very end.”

Several members of the McGill Ukrainian Students’ Association were present at the demonstration.

“A member of my family, he actually was in the war zone, so he was part of the Ukrainian troops,” explained one student in attendance. “A lot of people are [going] through certain physical or mental issues after that. I mean, [that member of my family] had a big, big problem; he couldn’t adapt to normal life after he [returned]. And still, I feel that he’s not recovered from that.”

“It’s not really in the news lately, but it’s still very much happening, and people are dying both on the Russian and Ukrainian side every day.”

“I think it just comes down to human rights,” said Nadia Demko, another McGill student at the demonstration. “I think you can sympathize with someone being illegally captured from their country, and this is all in the context of the war that’s happening in eastern Ukraine. It’s not really in the news lately, but it’s still very much happening, and people are dying both on the Russian and Ukrainian side every day.”