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Ukrainian student Valentine Auklova cosies up to a good book in her favorite library hideaway spot. Photo by Tatenda Chikukwa

Yesterday Ken Krawetz, the Saskatchewan Party finance minister,  announced the party had donated $60, 000 in humanitarian aid to the Ukrainian Assistance Account. This comes after a special meeting with the Saskatchewan-Ukrainian Advisory Committee in Saskatoon.


In a statement to the media, Krawetz said he recognized the hard work of the Ukrainian-Canadian community and the Ukrainian Canadian Congress in their continuing fight for a democratic homeland.


After months of protests against former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who wants to form greater trade ties with Moscow instead of the European Union, tension has once again risen due to Russia’s deployment of troops to the historically disputed and strategic region of Crimea. Ukrainian opposition leaders see this as an act of aggression.


Russian President Vladimir Putin has called the Ukrainian ousting of the former president unconstitutional and says he will use military force to protect Russians in Ukraine. This action has caused major international concern from not only political leaders but relatives of people living in Ukraine.


University of Regina science student Valentine Akulova knows too well about the plight of Ukrainian citizens. Born and raised in Kiev until the age of 18, she and her family decided to immigrate to Canada in 2010. Her teacher parents came to Canada for better jobs and opportunities for their children.


Valentina visited friends and family in Ukraine last December when protests were not so violent. She is glad the Saskatchewan Government is sending aid to Ukraine but is concerned about the abuse of aid. “I think if the money gets in good hands that’s awesome but, if not, they will just get stolen again,” said Auklova.


When asked about Crimea, Auklova remembered it fondly as her annual childhood vacation destination. She said it’s scary to have so many Russian troops in Crimea but she did not think there would be violence because the international community responded quickly to Russian actions.


Auklova said she was confident that the situation will be resolved soon but her step-mother insists there will be a war and some of her friends in Ukraine are scared and say many young men are joining the army to defend their country.


Auklova said she won’t be going back to Ukraine any time soon. She said the new prime minister and opposition leaders must stop being so self concerned about personal gains. “There is no leader in Ukraine to actually do something right now,” said Auklova.


U of R political science professor Martin Hewson said the Saskatchewan government's humanitarian aid is a symbol or gesture of sympathy and concern for people in Ukraine. He said it is not uncommon for a political party to make such a gesture but people should be aware that it will not have a great effect on the actions in Ukraine. The same is true at the national level, he said.


“In practical terms the federal government is very limited in what they can do to influence what President Vladimir Putin and Russia are doing,” said Hewson.


People are looking to opposition leaders for hope but many of them are not experienced politicians. Hewson points out that one of the opposition leaders, Vitali Klitschlo, is a former heavy-weight boxer.


Opposition party leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk was named prime minister last month and seems to be the general favorite in terms of political experience but he will find it difficult to unite all the opposition parties because their very different ideology, said Hewson.


The opposition ranges from the moderate political parties All-Ukrainian Union “Fatherland” and Ukrainian Democratic alliance for Reform (UDAR) to radical right-wing parties Svoboda “Freedom” and Pray Sektor.


The opposition leaders made a huge mistake when they got into power by revoking a law that allowed the Russian speakers in Ukraine to use Russian. Hewson said this as a terrible mistake to because it alienated Ukraine’s Russian speaking population and has provoked Russia.


They have now reversed that law but the damage has been done and Russia has retaliated by sending troops to Crimea.

“I very much doubt that they will be able to stay united and history tells us that because there was a revolution in Ukraine exactly 10 years ago,” said Hewson, refering to the Orange Revolution.


Ukrainian immigrants have been arriving on Canada’s shores since the late 19th Century and, according to Census Canada, Ukrainians make up the ninth-largest ethnic group.  Hewson is not surprised to see so much support for people in Ukraine since many Canadians can trace their ancestral heritage to Ukrainian immigrants.


“The Canadian government was the first government to recognize the independence of the independent Ukraine,” he said.


Hewson said going forward there may be doubts as to the cohesiveness of the opposition parties but Western governments like Canada and the U.K. must to work to promote diplomatic measures and monitor the upcoming 2015 Ukrainian elections to make sure they are free, fair and proper.


Update: The Crimean parliament has called for a referendum to become part of Russia. Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk has rejected this motion and insists the region will always be part of Ukraine.