Roughly 200 people attended the “Peace Vigil for the Ukraine” at Leger Square outside North Bay City Hall Friday night.
The event was organized by the four United Churches of North Bay.
The sombre gathering brought together men, women, and children from across North Bay and the area offering up prayers in a show of solidarity for the people of Ukraine as Russian forces wage war on their country.
In the crowd were many people with personal ties to Ukraine, worried for the safety of family members facing uncertainty as Russian forces continue to bear down on their country.
The national flag of Ukraine, its bold blue and yellow horizontal bands was scattered throughout the crowd. People held tight to their flag during the 45-minute peace vigil.
Draped in a Ukrainian flag Martin Hunka stood beside his 97-year-old father Yaro Hunka who fought the Russians as a young man. Martin’s daughter Leshya was also present to show her support.
For this family, like countless others, there is the day-to-day worry of what the future holds for family members as war carries on.
“They are safe, they are in western Ukraine. We’re in touch with them almost every day. They are getting prepared for war coming to them,” said Martin.
The images in the news are almost too much to bear.
“For my dad here who is 97 this month, it has been a very difficult week,” said Martin.
“He is reliving the war that he fought, as history keeps repeating itself, when the Russians invaded Ukraine. So unfortunately for Ukrainians, it’s ‘Here we go again, the Russians are invading.’ And it is a very hard time because we have family there. Having visited the country ourselves as a family, we see the images on TV of places we personally visited and it is absolutely heartbreaking to see the destruction.”
Yaro Hunka says the difference this time, is the support the country is getting from countries around the world.
“I grew up in Ukraine. When Ukraine was by itself fighting for independence, there was no support. In the last war, I joined the Ukrainian underground to fight Russia, so I was fighting the same people they’re fighting now. Nothing has changed there. The same enemy. First (Joseph) Stalin was there and now this idiot,” Yaro said with a tinge of anger in his voice when referencing Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“But Ukraine is not by itself like it was before. The whole world knows about Ukraine and the whole world supports Ukraine and that is very important.”
His son agrees.
“I think the support in Canada, the support around the world has been fantastic. At least now we have friends, whether that is going to translate into anything concrete on the ground, I think it already is.”
The Peace Vigil outside of North Bay City Hall was accented with people holding candles, and the lighting of candles following prayers lead by each of the ministers representing the United Churches of North Bay.
Patricia Kirton-Bailey, chair of St. Andrew’s church council, spearheaded the event which was put together in less than one week.
“Luckily we have a good team of ministers in North Bay in the United Church and they were willing to take on the challenge, without very much notice,” added Kirton-Bailey.
The ministers represented the congregations of St. Andrew’s United, Trinity United, Emmanuel United Church, and Omond Memorial United Church.
Once news of the vigil began to spread, organizers received an “incredible” response from the community.
“People need to know that they are not alone right now. People feel they need to do something. It is a scary time and they just need to join together,” said Kirton-Bailey who hopes by participating, people get a sense of peace.
“I know it is a little thing, but people will feel they have done something if they can say a prayer together or do meditation together, send positive stuff to the universe together. It gives people a sense of peace. It gives people a sense of accomplishment as opposed to just sitting on their own listening to some of the horrific news coming out. It is my prayer that it will give people some sense of peace and some sense that they have done something and that they are not alone. I think they will also leave feeling that maybe even just sending prayers is doing something. I think that is my biggest hope.”
The evening ended with the singing of Kumbaya.