While anti-government protests have sparked fiery violence in Ukraine, the local community here in Westman watch in worry.
Andriy Chmil, who moved to Canada eight years ago when he was 25 to live a "simple life" and go to university, said his sister and parents are safely located in the city of Rivne (about 330 kilometres from the capital of Kyiv where the largest swath of protesters are located). But he said he probably knows more about the situation in the country than they do.
He said he’s been able to watch the "true" news online. "I haven’t spoken to them in a few days, but I’m pretty sure I know more than they know.
"Especially in eastern Ukraine, they don’t know what’s going on, it’s very disturbing in that region," Chmil said.
Ongoing protests against President Viktor Yanukovych continue to spread across the country, now including central and eastern Ukraine, the leader’s support base. The protests began in late November after Yanukovych shelved a long-awaited agreement to increase ties with the European Union, but they have been increasingly gripped by people seeking more radical action, even as moderate opposition leaders have pleaded for the violence to end.
Chmil, who lives in Brandon, said he doesn’t have "direct fear" for his family living in Rivne yet, but added nobody knows what will happen next.
Chmil’s hometown is not without an uprising, however. International media reports said the city’s administration building was stormed by thousands who rushed in, demanding those detained in protests be freed, while reports of similar events came in from other towns.
"They’re just ordinary people who see their husbands, wives and children not happy with the government," Chmil said. "The biggest thing is the government doesn’t listen to what people say, anyone can just be a random victim."
On Sunday, thousands of Ukrainians chanted "Hero!" and sang the national anthem, as a coffin carrying a protester who was killed in last week’s clashes with police was carried through the streets of the capital, underscoring the rising tensions in the country's two-month political crisis.
While Chmil has been in Canada for eight years, he said he’s no less concerned about the well-being of the protesters. A crowd late Saturday besieged a building, throwing fireworks, firebombs and rocks, near the protest tent camp where about 200 police were sheltering. By early Sunday, a corridor was created, allowing police to leave.
"It’s very difficult to watch, honestly," Chmil said. "I’m still deeply concerned about what’s going on.
"There’s no reasonable explanation, there’s no excuse at all, the way (the government) treats people."
Three protesters have died in the past week’s clashes, two of them from gunshot wounds and a third of unspecified injuries. The Interior Ministry said a policeman was found shot in the head overnight. No arrests have been made or suspects named.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has pressed hard to keep Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, in his nation’s political and economic orbit, but more Ukrainians favour closer ties with the 28-nation EU than a new alliance with Russia.
Meanwhile, various local members of parliament have condemned the Ukrainian government’s actions towards protesters.
Robert Sopuck, member of Parliament for Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette, issued a media statement last week, calling the actions "unwarranted" and "unnecessary."
"I am deeply saddened by the tragic deaths of the protesters in Ukraine. The Government of Ukraine’s reaction to the peaceful protests are unwarranted, unnecessary, and heavy-handed," the statement read.
"Canadians continue to stand with the people of Ukraine and I call upon President Yanukovych and the Ukrainian government to immediately repeal the anti-protest law recently passed, and restore civil liberties. I urge President Yanukovych to restart talks with the European Union and adopt the free trade agreement which was already negotiated. Our government remains a steadfast supporter of Ukrainian democracy and ... the Canadian government is considering all possible options in response to these oppressive actions."
» email@example.com, with files from The Associated Press