Ukranian cyclists fight to raise awareness of Russian aggression

Chumak Way stops in South Dundas – A team of Ukrainian cyclists, who have already covered 8,000 kilometres on a quest to raise awareness of the desperate situation in the Ukraine since the Russian military invasion in 2014, stopped in South Dundas on August 8. (The Leader/Gibb photo)

IROQUOIS – They have already ridden over 8,000 kilometres on a personal and passionate quest.

Chumak Way, a group of nine Ukranian cyclists, left the Ukraine May 23, 2018, crossing Europe by bike, flying to the United States into New York, eventually cycling from Los Angeles to Canada.
Their hope with this marathon undertaking is to draw the world’s attention to a “conflict that has been going on since 2014.”

In that year Russia invaded the Ukraine: Russian troops continue to make inroads into sovereign Ukrainian territory, playing a propaganda game with the media and aggressively suppressing Ukrainian voices.

Dr. Artem Luhovy, president of the Ukrainian National Federation in Quebec, who is currently living in South Dundas and working at Winchester District Memorial Hospital, invited the team to this area and acted as interpreter for the cyclists during their visit.

“Right now, the Ukraine, a large and potentially wealthy nation whose people wish to decide their destiny by themselves, is facing a war of aggression from the Russians under Putin,” they told local people who gathered to talk to them both at the home of Janeen Wagemans and later at the St. Lawrence Medical Clinic.

“But this war has fallen out of media attention. We are trying to raise awareness about this conflict which has been going on for four years. It is our hope to find a peaceful solution to this war, and to regain territory currently occupied by Russian forces.”

Among the cyclists are two former soldiers, men who served on the front lines near Luhansk and Donetsk. They have seen the reality of this war first hand.

It is not a civil war, despite some Russian propaganda claims: Russia has openly invaded a neighbouring nation and now occupies a part of that country about the size of Belgium.

To date 10,000 people have died in the war.

Warendacz Woldko is the president of the Ukraine Sports Federation.

“My organization, the USCAK Canada Federation, is the co-ordinator of this ride. We are working for many organizations such as the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, companies from the Ukraine, other sports groups and many individuals. We have been helped a lot in this tour by the people we have met in other countries.”

As they travel, the members of the team have been producing and posting videos of their progress. Every Sunday in Kiev, the media runs a program about Chumak Way, letting their countrymen know of the progress of their mission.

The team is also raising funds to support their cause.

They have been strongly impressed by the warmth of their welcome in Canada, and especially in South Dundas.

Several members of this community stepped forward to organize dinner and breakfast for the cyclists, and also billeted them overnight.

The team carries a “Union” flag with them featuring both the flags of Canada and the Ukraine.

“People have been truly amazing,” Woldko said. “Canadians seem more relaxed, and we find them much more cultured. The geography of our two nations is similar, but distances are far greater, roads and cities are clean, and vehicles are definitely bigger,” he laughed.

Nearly two million Canadians claim Ukrainian heritage.

“We are so impressed to see Ukrainian culture preserved in Canada and celebrated. We talk constantly to people, telling them about the situation in our homeland and telling them about our mission.”

Many Canadians, particularly medical personnel, have volunteered to help in the war.

Recovery Room, a powerful feature documentary directed by Adriana Luhovy, is taken from the front lines in the Ukrainian war. Canadian nurses and doctors, fighting to save lives in the midst of the horrors of this brutal war, tell their stories. The film is compassionate, but it does not flinch from the ugliness and barbarity of what has been happening since the Russian invasion.

The film has won numerous awards including the 2017 Hollywood International Documentary Award, the Award of Merit at the Indiefest Film Awards and was a semi finalist at the Los Angeles Cinefest.

Chumak Way is trying hard to raise awareness as they enter the last leg of their epic journey, with the intention of returning home in late August.

Chumak Way is a Ukrainian phrase for the Milky Way.

“It is,” team members said, “the light at night which points travellers in the right direction. This is a ride for peace.”