Toronto, April 20, 2015… Serhiy Kuzan, a volunteer coordinator from the “Free People” organization in Ukraine toured Canada’s largest cities to thank Ukrainian Canadian communities for their support of the Ukrainian war effort. Throughout the 24-day tour, organized by the League of Ukrainian Canadians (LUC) and its “Friends of Ukraine Defence Forces” Fund, Mr. Kuzan was assisted by Orest Steciw, President of the LUC. The tour included 11 cities across Canada (organized by LUC and LUCW chapters with the support of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC), Ukrainian Youth Association of Canada (CYM), as well as seniors clubs in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Toronto, Etobicoke, St. Catharines, Oshawa, London, and Hamilton) and held 20 meetings with the local Ukrainian communities, opinion makers, journalists, clergy, students and government officials. The meetings focused on Ukraine’s citizen response to Russia’s war in eastern Ukraine, the state of the Ukrainian army and the general socio-economic and political situation in Ukraine.
Ukrainian Canadians and Canadian friends of Ukraine had the opportunity to learn about the assistance program directly from one of the leaders of Free People, who is personally involved with gathering and delivering supplies to Ukrainian defence forces, including those deployed in the most forward and dangerous positions.
Mr. Kuzan’s involvement with Free People is no accident. An attorney by training, he worked as an assistant prosecutor. As a law student at the prestigious National Law University of Yaroslav the Wise in Kharkiv, he was active in the local chapter of the Nationalist Youth Congress, a civically focused, democratic, patriotic student organization. He continued to chair the organization until 2014, which in 2011 was listed as one of the top 20 civic organizations in the country. He was among the founders of and in 2005/06 served as legal counsel for the Kharkiv affiliate of Our Ukraine, the lead political party of the Orange Revolution. In 2013 he was awarded a certificate of recognition by the Parliament of Ukraine for his civic endeavours. In 2014 he was appointed as an adviser to the Secretary of the National Defence and Security Council of Ukraine.
Mr. Kuzan discussed the way in which Free People became an important citizen support group for Ukrainian soldiers fighting in eastern Ukraine and explained how it is an example of the socio-patriotic processes underway throughout the country. During the run-up to the Euromaidan’s “Revolution of Dignity,” many civic groups in Ukraine were mobilized in support of Ukraine joining the European Union. Among the coalitions of pro-Euro-integration groups was Free People. When the Yanukovych regime’s special forces began launching attacks on the Euromaidan protesters, Free People established one of the first self-defence units of Euromaidan: “14th Company, Euromaidan Self-Defence.”
Following the success of the “Revolution of Dignity,” Russia occupied Crimea by force and then attacked the Donbas region of Ukraine. Ukraine’s armed forces were unprepared, as their ranks were decimated by the corruption of the former Yanukovych regime and infiltrated by Russian agents.
Consequently, many members of Euromaidan’s Self-Defence set out to defend Ukraine against Russian invaders and their surrogates by forming and joining volunteer battalions, National Guard units or the special forces of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. With the state coffers looted by the former regime, and a new Ukrainian government in the process of formation, Ukrainian citizens took it upon themselves to provide their defence forces with the material support to carry on the fight to rid Ukraine of the Russian military occupation.
Free People is one such network, bringing together volunteer groups throughout Ukraine to coordinate and pool resources in order to provide humanitarian assistance to the troops on the front lines and in the forward bases. Free People is registered with the Government of Ukraine and works in cooperation with the national government and local units of the Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the Security Service of Ukraine.
The Free People volunteer network has managed to supply soldiers on the front lines with everything from typical personal items to non-lethal military equipment. This is made possible thanks to the donations of caring people from Ukraine, Canada, Poland, Germany, the US, Israel, Italy, Spain, Lithuania, Belarus, and Russia. Ukrainian soldiers have received assistance from the Free People volunteer network valued at over 32 million hryvnias.
Serhiy Kuzan underscored the contributions of the Ukrainian Canadian community and the organizations supporting Free People: the League of Ukrainian Canadians, League of Ukrainian Canadian Women (LUCW), Buduchnist Credit Union, and the “Friends of Ukraine Defence Forces” Fund. He also noted the recently initiated Guardian Angels rehabilitation program for wounded soldiers organized by the LUCW. “These organizations have not stopped providing assistance since the beginning of the Anti-Terrorist Operation. Thanks to their help, we have been able to implement a wide range of costly projects: acquiring thermal imagers, various automobiles and other vehicles, and purchasing large quantities of non-lethal military gear,” explained Mr. Kuzan.
During community meetings, participants were interested not only in the work of volunteer groups. In his presentation, Mr. Kuzan also discussed Russia’s disinformation campaign. “Russian propaganda is broadcast on major Russian television channels that are viewed not only in Russia but also in the occupied parts of Ukraine – Crimea and the Donbas – because for people in Russia, Crimea and the Donbas, who don’t have satellite communications, there is no alternative,” Mr. Kuzan stated.
He noted that Russian propaganda includes methods used against Ukraine dating back to the liberation struggle by the UPA during WWII, portraying Ukrainians as neo-Nazis controlled by the USA, Canada, Germany and other western powers.
In Ottawa, Mr. Kuzan had the opportunity to meet with members of Canada’s parliament and government, including the parliamentary secretary to the Defence Minister, James Bezan; chair of the Canada Ukraine Parliamentary Friendship Group, Ted Opitz; parliamentary secretary to the Foreign Minister, Bernard Trottier; Minister of National Defence, Jason Kenney; Minister of Veterans Affairs, Erin O’Toole; Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Chris Alexander; as well as the Minister of Justice, Peter MacKay. They also discussed projects for humanitarian assistance to Ukraine with the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of International Development, Lois Brown.
“I am very grateful for the attention accorded Ukraine by Canadian government officials. With Canada, we have a real ally and not simply a declarative friend in our fight against the Kremlin,” said Mr. Kuzan.
Serhiy Kuzan also spoke at a meeting of the Canada Ukraine Parliamentary Friendship Group organized by its chairman, MP Ted Opitz, which was held in the Canadian Senate. “Ukraine needs modern weapons, optics, and secure communications, as Russia has deployed its most advanced weapons systems in the occupied territories. Each truce is used to resupply their troops and to maintain their superiority in technology and manpower. It also is extremely important for Ukraine to receive more assistance from Canada and the West in training its recruits,” Mr. Kuzan stressed to the Canadian MPs and Ministerial officials.
In addition to Orest Steciw, accompanying Mr. Kuzan in Ottawa were Ihor Kozak, Borys Potapenko and Taras Zalusky, who have repeatedly visited Ukraine, including the war zone and saw first-hand the work of Free People.
At each community meeting Serhiy Kuzan expressed the deep and sincere appreciation of Ukrainian soldiers for the support of Ukrainian Canadians. “If you could only see the gratitude of the soldiers, hugging us and passing on greetings to their supporters in Canada and around the world,” Mr. Kuzan noted.
“Yes, I have long been well aware of the Ukrainian Canadian community – from the early days of the “Revolution of Dignity” followed by the Russia’s war against Ukraine, it was our brothers and sisters in faraway Canada, always helping through their organizations, always donating to our struggle. But today the Canadian Ukrainian community is not only supporting our efforts directly. It also has engaged the Canadian government to do likewise. I think this should serve as an example for communities in other countries and for Ukrainian embassies and diplomatic missions in the world. In this I would like to acknowledge the work of Borys Potapenko, Vice-President of the International Council in Support of Ukraine (ICSU); Orest Steciw, President of the League of Ukrainian Canadians; Lisa Shymko, President of the League of Ukrainian Canadian Women; Taras Zalusky, Executive Director of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress; and Ihor Kozak, Chair of the LUC International Relations Committee and former Canadian military officer and NATO diplomat,” concluded Mr. Kuzan.
Mr. Orest Steciw, who accompanied Mr. Kuzan throughout the tour, added: “With partners in Ukraine like Serhiy Kuzan and Free People, it is safe to say that our work is not in vain. We also are gratified that our government has recently further increased support for Ukraine in all areas – economic, humanitarian and military – especially in training Ukraine’s defence forces.”
The “Friends of Ukraine Defense Forces” Fund is appealing to everyone who is concerned with the current situation in Ukraine and the future of the Ukrainian nation. Please join our initiative to help Ukrainian servicemen and women.
Please donate directly to: FUDF Fund, Account No.68139, Buduchnist Credit Union or send cheque to: League of Ukrainian Canadians, 9 Plastics Ave., Toronto, ON M8Z 4B6.
Cheque payable to FUDF Fund.
by Borys Potapenko
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