Mon­treal­ers in sol­i­dar­ity with Nadiya Savchenko

In­car­cer­ated politi­cian and pilot a “sym­bol of Ukraine”

The McGill Daily - - News - Ma­rina Cupido The Mcgill Daily

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 vol- un­teer 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.

“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.

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,” ex- plained 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.”

“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.”

“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.” Na­dia Demko

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