Hundreds gather at Manitoba legislature to raise awareness about Ukrainian prisoners of war

Hundreds of people gathered at the Manitoba Legislative grounds Monday evening, raising awareness about Ukrainian prisoners of war being held captive by Russia.

Sofiia Lazarenko last heard from two of her family members on May 19, after Russia seized the Ukrainian city of Mariupol. 

She fears that the two men, both soldiers, are being imprisoned by Russian forces.

“The war is still going on … it’s terrifying. We know nothing of what is going on [with them],” Lazarenko says.

At the end of July, a prison in Ukraine’s Donetsk region housing thousands of Ukrainian POWs was bombed, killing at least 50.

Supporters who attended the rally sang the Canadian anthem, followed by Ukraine’s anthem. Speeches from organizers and family members of prisoners of war followed, before marching to the Canadian Museum of Human Rights.

People who attended the rally at the Manitoba Legislature on Monday evening then marched to the Canadian Museum of Human Rights. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

“We want the world to talk loudly about this,” Marya Puhach told CBC News.

Puhach immigrated from Ukraine over ten years ago. Her message to government leaders is “to speak loudly about this situation and don’t keep silent, do not let Ukrainian prisoners be killed.”

Speakers at Monday’s rally raised concerns about Russia escalating attacks later this week on Ukraine’s Independence Day.

Over the weekend, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned of an increased risk of severe attacks, as Ukraine marks their 31st anniversary of independence from Russian-dominated Soviet rule on Aug. 24. 

The date also marks six months since the beginning of Russia’s invasion.

As a result, local authorities in Kyiv have banned public gatherings and celebrations due to the possibility of shelling.

Both Lazarenko and Puhach worry that the Ukrainian prisoners of war will be targeted by Russian forces as part of the possible Independence Day attacks.

“We are deeply concerned about the inhumane attitude to Ukrainian prisoners. We want them to be free,” Puhach says.

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