Members of the Ukrainian community protested against the detainment of a museum director in their home country on Wednesday afternoon. About 40 people gathered on Somerset Street across from the Ukrainian Embassy holding signs, waving flags, and making speeches.
The protest deliberately coincided with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich’s visit to the United Nations and a similar demonstration in New York City.
On September 9, the Ukrainian State Security Service (SBU) detained Ruslan Zabily, director of the Prison at Lonsky Museum in Lviv, for 14 hours and seized his notebooks and computers, according to the Kyiv Post. The SBU said it has opened an investigation against Zabily for preparing to disclose state secrets.
Zabily protested that the “secrets” in question are already in the public domain. Former President Viktor Yushchenko declassified thousands of old Soviet documents in 2009. Since President Yanukovich came to power in February, however, he has appointed a new head of the SBU, Valery Khoroshkovsky, who is against the public disclosure of these documents.
Among other demands, the Ottawa protesters demanded the resignation of the new SBU chief. “We protested to express our concern about Ukraine under the current president,” the vice president of Ottawa’s Ukrainian community center, Walter Usyk said.
Zabily’s detainment was illegal, irresponsible, and an act of intimidation according to Taras Zalusky, Executive Director of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, who could not make it to the protest.
Many members of the Ukrainian community see Zabily’s detainment as part of a greater trend in Ukraine. Nadia Dubik, manager of the Ottawa Buduchnist Credit Union, who hadn’t heard about the protest, said that in the few months since President Yanukovich has been in power, the government has become “more Soviet-style.” Relatives of hers who are business owners in Ukraine have found that it has become harder to do business.
The president of the Ottawa chapter of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, Adriana Willson, shared these views, but noted nevertheless that the Ukrainian community has a very good relationship with the ambassador, Dr. Ihor Ostash. She said that he’s one of the best they’ve ever had. “We’re not against him. We’re against the government,” she said. She also said that the ambassador has personal opinions which he is not allowed to share.
Officials at the Ukrainian Embassy were unable to comment about the Wednesday protest. During the event, however, the deputy ambassador invited a few protesters into the embassy for a discussion.
Willson has found that the Ukrainian diaspora in Ottawa could be more politically active when compared with those in Toronto and Winnipeg. She has noticed that many Ukrainian Ottawa residents are transient rather than permanent here. “No one’s really from Ottawa,” she said. She thought the protest was “semi-effective.”
The Canadian census data from 2006 counts 2555 Ukrainian speakers in Ottawa. However, Walter Usyk, the vice president of Ottawa’s Ukrainian community centre, estimated the size of the entire community at closer to 10,000.
Usyk has lived in Canada for years and for him, protesting outside embassies has been a regular occurrence. Before the fall of the Soviet Union, he and other Ukrainian Canadians used to demonstrate outside the Soviet Embassy. “We’ve been doing it most of our lives,” he said. Comparing the current problems with those of the past, he was unfazed: “We’ve lived through more tumultuous times.”