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Ukraine's flag flies over North Vancouver

Several residents of Ukrianian heritage shared poems, songs and experiences to mark this year's sombre Independence Day celebration
Ukraine's flag is raised beside North Vancouver city hall on Wednesday to mark the country's 31st Independence Day, and the first since Russia's invasion in February.

Tears fell as the Ukrainian flag flew over North Vancouver on Wednesday.

Aug. 24 marks 31 years since the nation declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. But what should be a celebration this year is more a reminder of the fear and sadness that comes with knowing that sovereignty is facing an existential threat.

In solidarity with Ukraine, the City of North Vancouver raised the country’s flag in Civic Plaza, near city hall.

A crowd coloured with splashes of bright blue and yellow gathered in the plaza to hear words from Ukrainian-Canadians and a recent refugee.

After being welcomed by Mayor Linda Buchanan, poet Svetlana Ischenko read verses reflecting on her experience of immigrating to Canada. She said that when she arrived in Canada not many people could place her accent, and few knew where Ukraine was on the map.

“Since February 24th of this year and the ongoing full-scale war [with Russia], everyone knows where Ukraine is,” Ischenko said.

She was followed by musician Olesia Shewchuk, who sang Prayer for Ukraine – a song that received wide recognition after being performed on Saturday Night Live two days after the invasion this year.

Shewchuk’s emotion spilled through her performance, moving herself and others in attendance to tears.

Valeriia Stashenko then shared her experiences of fleeing Ukraine and coming to Canada in March. She now lives with a host family in North Vancouver and works at a local beauty salon.

“Thank you to everyone in my new community for supporting and praying for us. It means a lot for us, for me, for people who protect our country right now,” she said. “I wish one day every person from here would come to visit Ukraine and be a part of the big victory celebration and see how beautiful our country is. Glory to Ukraine.”

North Vancouver-Seymour MLA Susie Chant and Mayor Linda Buchanan also spoke at the ceremony.

“Today we are gathered to recognize Ukraine’s Independence Day, the 31st Independence Day in their history, and the first one since the 2022 invasion of Ukraine by Russia,” Buchanan said.

“Today we are raising the Ukrainian flag in solidarity with Ukrainians in our community and abroad, and the many people all over the globe who have been impacted so profoundly by this unjustified war.”

The flag was raised as Shewchuk’s singing of Ukraine’s national anthem soared above the crowd.