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Warehouses in Kiev from where aid sending to the army and battalions of volunteers. An Army SOS fundraising dinner in Toronto raised $52,000 for Ukrainian troops. (Max Avdeev for The Globe and Mai/Max Avdeev for The Globe and Mai)
Warehouses in Kiev from where aid sending to the army and battalions of volunteers. An Army SOS fundraising dinner in Toronto raised $52,000 for Ukrainian troops. (Max Avdeev for The Globe and Mai/Max Avdeev for The Globe and Mai)

Canada’s Ukrainian diaspora raises $52,000 for troops at Toronto event Add to ...

Four Ukrainian soldiers kneel in a line as a rebel army commander yells in their faces and slaps one, hard. In Toronto, a gathering of Ukrainian-Canadians watches the scene unfold in a video from January presented by a volunteer activist to impress upon them the severity of this war.

The rebel fighter brings a knife near the neck of one soldier and the banquet hall full of viewers collectively gasps. There’s no bloodshed on the screen, however. Instead, the man cuts the soldiers’ Ukrainian army crests out of the shoulders of their uniforms and stuffs it in their mouths. The act is difficult for this patriotic crowd to watch at Saturday’s fundraising dinner for Army SOS, a volunteer organization that sends supplies to the Ukrainian army in its fight against Russia-backed separatists.

“It’s gotten to the point that Ukraine needs lethal military support immediately,” Lada Roslycky, communications director for Kiev-based English-language news channel Ukraine Today, said after playing the video.

Throughout Saturday’s event, speakers and organizers tried to drill home the message that Ukraine is a David fighting a malicious Goliath, Russia, bent on snatching its freedom and autonomy. The only way Ukraine stands a chance is if organizations such as Army SOS help level the playing field using donations from the public, attendees heard.

Local Conservative MPs Ted Opitz and Bernard Trottier attended the event, touting the government’s steadfastly pro-Ukraine stance while giving Canada’s Ukrainian diaspora a chance to urge the federal government to step up its response to the war by supplying lethal weapons.

“This is modern warfare,” Nazar Volynets, a Ukrainian-Canadian who went overseas to serve as a volunteer soldier with Ukrainian forces, said at a press conference prior to the banquet dinner. He said the rebels, who the Ukrainian government and NATO say are armed by Russia, have sophisticated radars and technology allowing them to see through smoke and debris, and track and capture soldiers sent behind the front lines.

“How can you fight with old Soviet weapons if they have all the modern weapons?” Mr. Volynets said. “NATO has to realize we’re just like a meat grind for the Russians. They’re just shelling us like crazy.”

It’s these stories that had about 400 attendees reaching deep into their pockets to raise a total of $52,000 Saturday, according to Richard Hareychuk, one of the event organizers. Since it was founded last summer, Army SOS says it has spent more than $1-million on supplies for Ukrainian troops.

Mr. Hareychuk, a Toronto optometrist who went to Ukraine to deliver supplies to front-line soldiers on behalf of the organization, presented photos at the banquet of an orthopedic drill Army SOS took to Ukraine, as well as radio scanners that he brought to Kiev in his own suitcase. But Mr. Hareychuk is adamant the group does not send any weapons overseas and its activities remain within legal bounds.

“It would likely get stopped at the border. Logically, are we going to sink $10,000 or $20,000 into something that would either not get out of Canada or get stopped in Ukraine?” he said in an interview.

That’s where Canada and other NATO allies need to step in, said Ihor Kozak, a defence and security expert and retired Canadian military officer.

Mr. Kozak was also invited to speak at the event and he laid out three main actions he’d like to see Western powers take: provide Ukraine with defensive weapons, modern military equipment and comprehensive training; dramatically increase sanctions against Russia’s defence, energy and financial services sectors and ban it from the SWIFT banking system; and continue supporting Ukraine with financial aid and expertise to help modernize its government and boost the economy.

“[Russian President Vladimir] Putin will not stop until he is stopped,” Mr. Kozak said. “Weakness provokes, strength deters.”

Mr. Opitz said he understands the community’s concerns but Canada must work with its allies in the European Union and the U.S. before moving forward.

“Not [having a united front] really actually meets Vladimir Putin’s claim where he’ll try to create schisms within the alliance and that’s not healthy for any of us,” he said. “We are waiting for some of our allies to actually look at these issues too.”

Canada has already sent night-vision goggles, radio equipment, uniforms, and boots to Ukrainian fighters, Mr. Opitz added.

Mr. Trottier said in a speech at the banquet that Canada is continuing efforts to establish a free-trade agreement with Ukraine and working with allies to develop a plan to provide lethal weapons.

In the meantime, Woodbridge resident Kalyna Kardash said she trusts Army SOS to use her money to buy whatever equipment Ukrainian soldiers need.

“They’ve done a lot of great work showing how they buy exactly what is needed and how they literally hand deliver it to the soldiers,” she said.

Ms. Kardash said the recent crisis in Ukraine has galvanized so many Ukrainian-Canadians because they are descendants of those who initially fought for the country’s independence from the Soviet Union.

Ron Chyczij, another local resident, said he hopes the money he donates is used to purchase lethal weapons.

“If you donate it to the right sources, including to the Ukrainian government, perhaps it will happen,” he said, despite Army SOS’s insistence it doesn’t supply arms or send money to Ukraine.

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