Ukrainian refugees to flee Winnipeg following attack
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WINNIPEG — Two Ukrainian refugees attacked at The Forks on Canada Day intend to leave Manitoba, as a rash of incidents highlights an increase in violent crime in Winnipeg.
The city’s emergency services responded to three serious stabbings and two shootings, including Winnipeg’s 27th homicide of the year, over a bloody long weekend.
Friday night’s stabbing at The Forks was the third attack in five days at the national historic site.
“We saw a young man holding his chest and his neck desperately asking for help as he walked toward traffic,” said witness Julya Zan. “The knife was sticking out of his neck.”
As other drivers went around the victim, Zan, 26, and her husband, Jorge Torres, stopped their car and helped him as he lay on a sidewalk, she said.
The couple’s friend was on the phone with 911.
The 22-year-old victim and his friend told Zan they were crossing Israel Asper Way at York Avenue when they accidentally bumped into a group of at least three men around 10:40 p.m.
After apologizing, both men were hit with bear spray, and one was stabbed.
“He said it was so shocking and it happened so fast he didn’t realize he had been stabbed,” said Zan, who moved to Canada from Ukraine in 2010.
She spoke in Ukrainian to the victims, who were in shock, as they waited for police and paramedics to arrive.
“As I was trying to calm this man down, I was freaking out,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like that before.”
As the stabbing victim turned pale and was rushed off in an ambulance, Zan worried he wouldn’t make it.
In a news release, Winnipeg police said the victim was “bleeding profusely” with a life-threatening wound.
Staff at Health Sciences Centre stabilized him after he arrived in critical condition.
His 23-year-old friend was treated and released.
Police are looking for multiple suspects, who fled on foot.
Zan, who has visited the stabbing victim in hospital, said the men told her they fled Kyiv when Russia launched its unprovoked war on Ukraine in February.
After spending time in Poland, they arrived in Canada two weeks ago.
The pair moved into an apartment in downtown Winnipeg the day of the attack, said Zan.
“They told me they don’t want to be here anymore. They are looking at moving to another province,” she said. “Their opinion about Manitoba and Winnipeg has definitely changed.”
Traumatized by what she witnessed, Zan doesn’t feel comfortable returning to the area. She has had flashbacks of the victim with the knife stuck in his neck.
“It could have been anybody; he was a totally innocent guy walking down the street,” she said. “It just makes you question if you should be going downtown.”
In the earlier incidents at The Forks, a father and daughter were attacked by three teenage girls at about 8 p.m. on June 27, and two men were stabbed at about 12:30 a.m. two days later, said police.
Four youths and two adults were arrested in the latter attack.
On June 20, a 16-year-old boy was critically injured and an 11-year-old boy was caught in the crossfire during a shooting at the Red River Ex.
Between April 2021 and March 2022, reports of violent crime in Winnipeg increased by 18.3 per cent compared with the previous 12-month period, according to the latest police figures.
The total was 3.7 per cent higher than the five-year average.
Reports of violent crime in March, as Manitoba emerged from another COVID-19 lockdown, jumped by 19.7 per cent compared with March 2021.
The figure was 37.9 per cent higher than the five-year average for the month.
Coun. Markus Chambers, chair of the Winnipeg Police Board, said the city could be on pace for a record number of homicides, with 27 so far.
A record 44 homicides occurred in 2019.
Of this year’s killings, the police clearance rate is high, and most have involved people who know each other or gang activity, said Chambers.
“This is not the perception that we want, that it’s a violent city,” he said, noting tougher economic times can lead to an increase in crime.
To be proactive, Chambers said, he wants the police board to meet with downtown groups to discuss safety in the area.
He said the board wants to hear from Winnipeggers to help police to identify neighbourhoods that may require an increase in police presence or strategies to combat crime.
Recent violence isn’t doing any favours for Winnipeg’s reputation and attempts to attract new residents and tourists.
Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war, for example, are using social media to seek recommendations on where to live when they arrive in Canada.
“I would think something like this, in the short term, may discourage some people from coming to Winnipeg on their own, which would be unfortunate because, in general, it is a safe and welcoming place,” said Ostap Skrypnyk, a member of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress’s Manitoba council.
One of the council’s leaders was planning to visit the victim of Friday’s stabbing in hospital.
The Winnipeg Police Service’s public information office was busy Monday, as it released information about five violent incidents over the Canada Day long weekend.
Amid that workload, a spokeswoman said police were “unable to accommodate” a Winnipeg Free Press request for comment on crime trends and prevention.
Mayor Brian Bowman was not available for comment, his spokesman said.
No one from The Forks management was made available for an interview Monday.
In an email, spokeswoman Jenna Khan said The Forks is co-operating with police and it does not have any further details about Friday’s incident.
Security was increased following the two earlier attacks.
In addition to The Forks security team, Winnipeg police officers and cadets, the Downtown Community Safety Partnership, SABE Peace Walkers, Mama Bear Clan and Impact Security were on site during Friday’s celebration, called “A New Day,” said Khan.
Crime and public safety are certain to be among the key issues when Winnipeggers elect a new mayor and councillors in October.
Mayoral candidate Jenny Motkaluk said she would like to see The Forks’s CEO, Sara Stasiuk, and police Chief Danny Smyth make public statements about the recent violence.
She said she isn’t prepared to reveal her platform on crime, but police officers are “taxed” and measures should focus on “maximizing” the time they spend in the community.
Fellow candidate Rick Shone said Friday’s attack was “embarrassing and really disgusting.”
If elected, he would like to work with the province and community agencies on a strategy to free up officers from having to respond to less urgent or non-violent calls.
Shone and former mayor Glen Murray, another candidate, cited a need to work with federal and provincial governments on long-term plans for social issues that are among the contributing factors to criminal behaviour.
Murray and candidate Scott Gillingham, the councillor for St. James, said they would advocate for a greater focus on community-based policing and prevention.
St. Boniface-St. Vital MP Dan Vandal, the Liberals’ senior portfolio minister in Manitoba, said public safety is the federal government’s top priority.
He said Ottawa is trying to prevent crime by investing in programs for people with mental health needs and/or addictions, and those who are in or at risk of falling into gangs.
Provincial Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen said the province is working with police across the province to prevent violent crime.
» Winnipeg Free Press