Draped in blue and yellow and waving Ukrainian flags, hundreds of people rallied outside the Russian consulate in Toronto Sunday, gathering to show support for Ukraine and call for bold action by the war-besieged country’s Western allies.
Demonstrators from the GTA’s Ukrainian community along with other supporters — some waved flags from nearby eastern European countries that border Russia such as Estonia and Latvia — braved strong winds on an unusually warm March day. Citing the “large crowd” outside the consulate, police temporarily closed a few blocks of St. Clair Ave. E. near Yonge St. Sunday afternoon.
Following a call from the organizers around 3:30 p.m., hundreds of protesters marched from the Russian consulate downtown to the U.S. consulate on University Avenue, north of Queen St. W.
Waving flags and carrying signs calling for additional support, they gathered opposite the American consulate, shouting chants including, “No fly zone” and “We need action, not just words.”
The latest in a series of Stand With Ukraine rallies, the event was organized by the Toronto branch of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC), which is calling for NATO to enforce a “no-fly” zone over Ukraine amid the brutal Russian invasion that began 11 days ago and has caused 1.5 million people to flee the country.
Western countries have broadly supported Ukraine, sending humanitarian support, supplies and lethal weapons and imposing harsh economic sanctions on Russia, but NATO has not sent any troops to the country to fight.
“So many of us in the community, we don’t understand what the problem is,” said Nadia Prokopiw, a spokesperson for the UCC’s Toronto branch. “How many dead civilians do they need to see? How many war crimes does Putin have to commit before they (NATO) step in?”
Mélanie Joly, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister, told the Star’s editorial board on Friday that NATO countries have rejected Ukraine’s calls for a no-fly zone to avoid escalating the conflict, noting that Russian President Vladimir Putin has displayed “irrationality” in his invasion.
“We need to make sure that we’re not triggering an international conflict, right? So that is for all of us and including President Biden, the red line,” Joly said.
Michael Bolton, a computer software trainer from Toronto, said he attended the rally Sunday to “bear witness and stand with other people” in the face of Putin’s aggression, adding, “The least we can do is to represent, to get out and be seen.”
Bolton has travelled to both Russia and Ukraine in the past for work and says he was welcomed by kind hosts in both countries. “Imagining some of the people that I’ve met at conferences and in my classes having picked up rifles — nobody should have to do that.”
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