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Islanders fear for loved ones in Ukraine as attacks intensify

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Victoria Grando ended her telephone call Friday with her cousin — who lives in Ukraine — in tears.

Her cousin, also called Victoria, lives in Kyiv, the country’s capital, and was just getting out of a taxi, on her way to a bomb shelter.

The city’s mayor had urged all Kyiv’s residents to seek shelter in bomb shelters or the subway.

Just before Grando hung up her cell phone, the sounds of sirens blaring and young children screaming could be heard over the phone.

“They started bombing, they started bombing”, Grando sobbed Friday, from the office of the Ukrainian Cultural Centre in Victoria.

Russian attacks on Kyiv accelerated Friday — with apartment buildings being bombed and civilians increasingly in the line fo fire.

“So basically today, all day, there were on and off alarms, and the Kyiv was bombed heavily,” Grando said, fighting through her tears.

More bloodshed is inevitable for Ukrainian civilians, especially in Kyiv, says Serhy Yekelchyk, a Slavic studies professor at the University of Victoria, who has written books on the ongoing Russian Ukrainian conflict.

“Significant civilian casualties are unavoidable, in part because the Russians see it as very important to control the capital,” said Yekelchyk Friday.

Grando runs Victoria's Ukrainian Cultural Centre, and was busy all week preparing traditional Ukrainian food for a fundraiser Friday evening.

She described the work as a welcome distraction from the intense suffering in her homeland — where she has many relatives and friends forced to basements and bomb shelters to hide from missile attacks Friday.

She says her cousin would like to flee Kyiv to Victoria for a safer, better life.

“If there would be the possibility to do so, definitely, definitely, because they have little kids,” said Grando.

B.C. Premier John Horgan weighed in Friday on the plight of Ukrainians like Grando’s cousin.

“British Columbians will open their arms to Ukrainian citizens who are wanting to make their way to British Columbia. Ultimately, that’s a federal responsibility, but we’re already working on that,” said Horgan.

Meanwhile, other Islanders are doing what they can to support. The Flag Shop Victoria has been inundated by requests for Ukrainian flags — including the one raised outside the BC Legislature Thursday and the one raised outside Victoria’s City Hall Friday.

The shop also donated in a large way to Victoria’s Ukrainian Cultural Centre.

Paul Servos runs the store and says he and his staff have been working overtime to make sure all requests are filled.

“We’re staying here late today and tomorrow, and we’re going to make as many flags as we can so that people are not disappointed,” said Servos Friday.

The shop has also been busy filling requests for flags for a rally outside the BC Legislature being held at 12:30 on Sunday.

Back at the Ukrainian Cultural Centre in Victoria, the fundraiser was a big success. It sold out early Friday morning, and there were long lines out the door — and along the street — with folks queuing up to purchase food and make donations.

Just another sign of solidarity for the 44 million Ukrainians under siege — and those desperate to help them any way they can.  

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