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Canberra Today 2°/6° | Monday, May 20, 2024 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

A year on, dogged protesters keep the flag flying 

Ukraine protesters Andrew Liszczynsky and Marusya Jacyshyn in front of the Russian embassy on Canberra Avenue, Kingston. Photo: Lily Pass

WHEN Russia invaded Ukraine a year ago, Marusya Jacyshyn decided she needed to do something to show her support for Ukraine.

“A friend of mine asked if I knew there was to be a gathering outside the Department of Foreign Affairs,” says Marusya, 75.

“I hadn’t heard, but I decided I was going. That was on the 25th of February.”

The following Sunday, Marusya – of Ukrainian heritage –  travelled to Kingston from her Queanbeyan home to join a growing group, to stand outside the Russian embassy on Canberra Avenue in protest, and they have continued ever since.

“There is always one person, at least one person, standing there with a Ukrainian flag,” she says.

On February 24, the Ukrainian community and supporters will hold a vigil from 10am-5pm in front of the Russian embassy to mark the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion and full-scale war on Ukraine. A bell will be rung every hour, on the hour, to begin a minute of silence to remember the deaths of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians.

Andrew Liszczynsky, 63, also of Ukrainian heritage, frequently travels from his Moncrieff home, sometimes with his children, to join the protest.

On Saturday the group can grow to more than 50 people of a range of backgrounds.

“Our goal is to protest until victory for Ukraine, to inspire the Ukrainian soldiers and people to keep fighting, to show them they have support coming from across the world, especially in Canberra,” says Andrew.

But after nearly 365 days of protesting, Andrew says people are beginning to feel “protest fatigue”.

“I said, don’t be afraid to do something, even just something little, every day,” he says.

“It could be lighting a candle or putting a flag out the front. The worst thing we can do is put our protests on the back burner.”

What continues to motivate them is seeing President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on social media.

“He said in a clip it’s not so much that he is brave, but that he doesn’t want to let people down,” says Andrew.

“That is true of all of us. We don’t want to let people down, either.

“He made commitments as president when he was elected, and he said he is sticking by them, and that is very inspirational.

“He and the first lady could have left Ukraine or bunkered down, but he stayed and is filming clips in the streets of Kyiv, to show the country and the world that he is there.”

The Ukraine ambassador Vasyl Myroshnychenko has also offered his praise to the Kingston protesters.

“Russia needs to be stopped, and the protesters are a continuous reminder to the embassy,” he says.

“It is important that the Ukrainian community have the opportunity and the right to protest. I have been out there in Kingston a couple of times, to show my support and to thank them personally.

“It is vital for people to be out there, and it’s good to have the Australian reminder that the war in Ukraine is ongoing.”

The reactions from the drivers along Canberra Avenue also “usually” motivate the group to continue protesting.

“For every 20 or so car horn beeps, you might get one person who says we are Ukrainian Nazis, but they are not worth responding to,” says Andrew.

Marusya shares that some people go so far as to drive through puddles to splash mud on to her and fellow protesters.

“But that inspires us more, to keep going. We just think it doesn’t matter if we are hot, cold or splashed, it is nothing compared to what our Ukrainian soldiers and civilians are going through,” she says.

“Apart from the police, who are outside the Russian embassy most days as a ‘just in case’, we don’t have direct contact with the embassy,” says Andrew.

“Occasionally they wave hello with just one finger, and I yell back that it’s not very diplomatic of them.”

In terms of furthering the support they are receiving, Marusya says she has tried to reach out to the federal and local governments, but has been told a few times “it is too hard”.

“But Shane Rattenbury did come out once and he did facilitate, by putting me in contact with someone at the National Capital Authority, to light up Canberra’s buildings in yellow and blue, and that was a really powerful thing,” she says. “And [Senator] David Pocock and his wife have been with us a few times as well.”

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Lily Pass

Lily Pass

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