Canadian heroes honoured at the anniversary of UWVA

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Instead of opening with the Canadian and the Ukrainian anthems, this year’s Rememberance Day ceremony started with a symbolic funeral procession for Col. Yevhen Konovalets. Konovalets was a Ukrainian soldier and nationalist leader killed in 1938 that inspired the creation of the organization back in 1928. Cpt. (Retired) Andre Sochaniwsky CD, along with Flt. Sgt. Yurij Kunyckyj and Cpl. Adrian Kunyckyj brought in the Ukrainian and the Canadian flags, with a framed photo of Konovalets, which they mounted on the stage in front of the audience.

“We wanted to honour and recognize not just the members that created the organization, but also the current serving and fallen members in Canada and Ukraine,” said Sochaniwsky, UWVA’s president, and a former officer in the RCAF.

It is not a coincidence that the 90th anniversary of the Ukrainian War Veterans Association of Canada (UWVA) happened the day before Remembrance Day. The attending Ukrainian Canadian veterans fought alongside other Canadian soldiers during the Second World War. They gathered Saturday at the Ukrainian National Federation building on Evans Avenue to honour their fallen comrades.

Days before Canada joined the Second World War in September, 1939, the UWVA pledged its unwavering support to the country. According to Sochaniwsky, UWVA’s entire Winnipeg branch enlisted in the Canadian army, as well as members in St. Catharines, Sudbury and elsewhere.

“By the end of the Second World War, 4,000 plus Canadians of Ukrainian descent served in the armed forces of Canada – an astonishing contribution to the defence of Canada and the free world,” Sochaniwsky told the crowd.

The organization was founded in Winnipeg in January 1928 by 16 Ukrainian army veterans, who were former soldiers of the Ukrainian National Republic. They responded to Canada’s call to arms and gave their lives for the country.

“When people in many cases volunteer their service and die in the act of defending their country ­– you can’t give more than that,” Sochaniwsky said. “(It is) something that is very difficult for us to imagine, but something we have to appreciate. And we have to respect and honour and acknowledge that had it been not for those people that made this contribution, the world might be quite a different place.”

The UWVA veterans are Canadian heroes because they fought for Canada, said Anastasia Baczynskyj, youth programming director at the Toronto branch of the Ukrainian National Federation of Canada.

“The UWVA are Canadian heroes of Ukrainian decent, who served in the Second World War. And we need to do more for the fallen UWVA members.”

Unfortunately, the stories of many memorable veterans can now be found only in history books. Maj. Markian Holowatyj, who opened the celebration, said that he learned about many Canadian heroes of Ukrainian descent only through attending their funerals.

“You don’t know what their story is and you should not be learning about them at their funeral,” said Holowatyj, 61. He has been a member of the UWVA for many years, and currently is a serving member of the Royal Canadian Air Force.

Today, Canada returns its support to Ukraine by providing equipment and soldiers who conduct military training there. It is part of Canadian efforts to help Ukraine after Russia’s annexation of Crimea back in 2014.

“Little did I know that I would be asked to take the helm of this historic organization during the time of war between Ukraine and Russia, and with Canadian units engaged in operations in Ukraine for the first time in history,” said Sochaniwsky, 51.

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